Here in Chicago, a branch of the American Federation of Teachers is looking to organize one of the nation's largest nonprofit charter-school groups. Under an agreement last month, the United Neighborhood Organization, which runs 13 charter schools in the city, agreed to provide the union with contact information for its 400 teachers and to let union organizers meet with them on school grounds, even as the charter-school group didn't take a position on whether the teachers should organize.
Backers of charters, which are public schools run by independent groups, say freedom from union contracts enables innovation in areas like staffing and school calendars. Opponents say charters siphon money and students from struggling traditional public schools.
Labor leaders say they want to organize charters because teachers there complain about low pay and poor working conditions, and because unionized teachers can negotiate favorable conditions for students, such as small class sizes. But others say the push has as much to do with unions' declining membership.