In this file photo from February 2015, Brian Harris of the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff announces a unionization drive at Urban Prep Academies. Credit: Photo by Melissa Sanchez

Urban Prep Academies, one of the most prominent charter networks in Chicago, has agreed to hire back some teachers it fired soon after workers voted to unionize last year.

The charter network also will pay about $250,000 in severance and back pay as part of a settlement approved this week by the National Labor Relations Board.

Last June the charter network fired 15 teachers and staff shortly after a majority of workers voted to join the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (ChiACTS). Two of them were immediately rehired at either Urban Prep or another school at a similar salary, meaning they suffered no monetary losses.

Although all affected workers were offered their jobs back, only two asked to be reinstated. Both returned to work this week. The other teachers and staff either found jobs elsewhere or did not want to return to one of Urban Prep’s three campuses, said Brian Harris, president of CHiACTS.

The affected workers will receive severance and back pay, in addition to other expenses and interest, in amounts ranging from about $9,000 to $37,000

Harris said he hopes the agreement sends a message to other charter operators.

“It’s too bad the charter operators often react like this when their staff chooses a union,” he said. “They just can’t do this type of thing.”

Officials from the charter network – one of the oldest in the city and the only one that serves only male students aiming to get into college – said  in a statement that “Urban Prep has always respected teachers’ right to unionize, and as such, would never dismiss any teacher because of his or her organizing activity.”

The statement goes on to say that many of the employees were terminated due to a curriculum restructuring, and some for performance reasons, and that they agreed to the settlement in order to avoid a lengthy and costly legal process.

ChiActs filed unfair labor practice charges over the firing in June. In November, the National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint against Urban Prep after an administrative judge found that the network had fired one employee for his union activities, terminated others without proper notice, and refused to bargain in good faith.

Under the settlement reached this week, Urban Prep does not admit to violating federal labor law.

Meanwhile, contract negotiations for the first labor agreement between the charter school and its employees are underway. The contract would cover about 110 teachers and staff.

Just over 1,000 workers at 32 of the 130 charter schools in Chicago are unionized.

Melissa Sanchez is a reporter for The Chicago Reporter. Email her at and follow her on Twitter at @msanchezMIA.

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