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WUWM's Emily Files reports on education in southeastern Wisconsin.

Carmen charter school employees vote against unionizing

Carmen Schools of Science and Technology runs five schools in Milwaukee, including Carmen Northwest High School.
Emily Files
Carmen Schools of Science and Technology runs five schools in Milwaukee, including Carmen Northwest High School.

Employees at Carmen Schools of Science and Technology in Milwaukee have voted against unionizing with the International Association of Machinists (IAM).

The National Labor Relations Board counted mail-in union election ballots Thursday. The vote was 79 against, 59 in favor. There were seven challenged ballots, which isn’t enough to change the result.

If the union drive had succeeded, Carmen would have been the first unionized privately-run charter school network in Wisconsin.

Current and former Carmen employees who supported the union told WUWM they hoped to change working conditions at the schools, where they say teachers work longer hours for lower pay than their peers at traditional public schools.

The IAM released a statement Thursday afternoon accusing Carmen leaders of hiring an anti-union labor attorney "to direct a concerted anti-union campaign which included the use of captive audience meetings, misinformation, and the filming of multiple anti-union videos."

“Despite the result, I hope that the last couple weeks have been eye opening for those in positions of power,” Carmen Northwest High School math teacher Nathan Wollenweber said in the statement. “I hope this will serve as a catalyst for more impactful conversations that actually move us toward a more transparent and sustainable workplace in the future.”

Carmen is a private charter management organization that runs five publicly-funded schools in Milwaukee, most on the south side, serving over 2,200 students. CEO Jennifer Lopez also released a statement Thursday.

“We are thankful for the staff that participated in this vote and while it appears the majority have voted against joining [IAM], the vote is not yet certified," said Lopez. "The ultimate outcome of this vote will not in any way impact our unwavering commitment to supporting our hardworking staff and providing the very best learning environment for our students.”

Because Carmen is privately-run, employees attempted to unionize under federal labor law through the NLRB. That means their union would not have been constrained by Act 10, which curtailed collective bargaining rights for Wisconsin public employee unions.

The IAM added in its statement: "Everyone involved should know that if management continues to fail the teachers and students of Carmen, we will be back”

This story has been updated.

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Emily is WUWM's education reporter and a news editor.
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