By Ryan Fan
A Union Chapter Committee (UCC) is an essential part of many Baltimore City schools that advocates for the interests of teachers and PSRPs. It looks different for every school, but at its core, a UCC is usually a group of 5-10 BTU members who meet regularly with the principal to address the concerns of the staff. This core group should ideally represent the diversity of the school’s staff in as many ways as possible. Since UCCs exist to serve the interests of members, any member of the BTU can add something to the agenda for UCCs to advocate for.
The union chapter committee also exists to ensure all members of the BTU have a voice. Membership meetings happen where BTU members can participate and discuss member concerns. In larger schools, a UCC might also have numerous subcommittees that focus on specific issues and campaigns. Structure and consistent meeting times that are communicated to all BTU members at the school are essential. During meetings, there can be rotating roles like facilitators, timekeepers, and note-takers. At these membership meetings, building representatives and Union Learning Representatives (ULRs) give reports and new business is discussed and voted on by members. The UCC should also have a monthly meeting with the principal and possibly other administrators. Principals are required by the BTU contracts to meet with the UCC on a regular basis.
Each BTU member already has significant responsibilities as a teacher or PSRP, and so the added responsibilities of leading a Union Chapter Committee can seem daunting at first. According to former Patterson High School building rep Mike Pesa, building representatives and other UCC leaders must delegate tasks to other members and focus on developing new leaders to lighten the load. A school’s UCC must identify tasks and divide them equitably among staff, and not take on more than they can handle.
Melissa McDonald, a teacher at ConneXions School for the Arts, says her school’s UCC meets every month with the principal, with the building representative and 3-4 members of the staff present. Before the meeting, the UCC anonymously surveys the staff to see what issues they want to be addressed at the meeting, and then they send notes from the meeting to all members. Later, they’ll talk about prior resolutions and newer issues at the monthly union meeting.
Of course, many schools do not have Union Chapter Committees, and during virtual learning and a pandemic, it’s difficult to start a new one. But an effective UCC that advocates for all member interests is contingent on the participation of all members and leaders within a school, not just one individual. The union has many materials on starting an effective Union Chapter Committee, and questions can be directed to field representatives for each school.
Building an effective UCC also takes a lot of time, and with the daily obligations of teachers and PSRPs, Pesa says it’s important to start slow and grow sustainably. Social leaders within the school should be tapped for the UCC as long as they are committed to the union and not in league with the administration. Providing food, social activities, and child care can make your meetings more inviting and accessible and encourage more members to participate. (Of course, this is hard to do during a pandemic, but it’s something to keep in mind for the future.) The UCC should also maintain a phone tree and an email list with everyone’s non-BCPSS address and keep members updated during BTU time at monthly faculty meetings.
The point is that running an effective Union Chapter Committee (UCC) does not happen overnight. Sometimes, if a UCC only has two or three people involved, it needs to start with two or three people, and that’s OK. It is also difficult to start in the middle of a pandemic, but an effective UCC is a gradual effort that takes time and commitment and is not an instant success, yet definitely worth it in the end.
Ryan Fan is a 9th Grade Special Education English teacher at REACH. He is currently trying to help start a Union Chapter Committee at his school.