Teachers at three charter schools in the Alliance College Ready Public Schools network opted May 2 to join the United Teachers Los Angeles union, marking a major breakthrough in the union’s four-year effort to unionize the largest local charter network.

A majority of teachers at the three schools – the Alliance College-Ready Middle Academy No. 5 near Lincoln Heights, Alliance Gertz-Ressler Richard Merkin 6-12 Complex in the University Park neighborhood, and Alliance Judy Ivie Burton Technology Academy High School in South Los Angeles ¬– signed union authorization cards. Collectively, the three schools have about 100 teachers; the entire 25-school Alliance network has a total of 730 teachers.

Unlike with other private sector companies where elections are held on whether to join a union, California labor law only requires a majority of employees at charter schools to sign authorization cards before an employer must recognize union representation. The union status becomes official after the California Public Employment Relations Board verifies the signatures, which is expected within the next few weeks. After that, representatives from the new union unit and Alliance will enter negotiations over a contract.

Three years ago, UTLA sought unsuccessfully to unionize the entire Alliance charter school network. That effort stalled amidst legal wrangling over allegations on both sides of illegal tactics in support of or opposing the unionization drive. UTLA’s fortunes changed when it narrowed its focus to a few schools within the network.

“The schools that filed with the PERB today are just the first wave,” said Alisha Mernick, an art teacher at Alliance Gertz-Ressler Richard Merkin 6-12 Complex. “Teachers want to work with the Alliance board and management as partners and not as adversaries. We look forward to productive negotiations. The goal of teachers who have chosen unionization is to have schools that meet the needs of students and parents as well as teachers. That should be management’s goal as well.”

Alliance issued a statement in response to the unionization announcement.

“After more than three years trying to organize the Alliance charter school network, we have been made aware that some staff at three of 25 Alliance schools have submitted cards to form a bargaining unit through United Teachers Los Angeles,” the statement read in part. “As always, we remain committed to making sure that all of educator voices are heard and counted as this process moves forward.”

Economy, education, energy and transportation reporter Howard Fine can be reached at hfine@labusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @howardafine.