Educators and staff members at two Twin Cities charter schools have voted to unionize with the aim of taking a bigger part in school decisionmaking.

The moves to create bargaining units and then negotiate contracts were backed by wide margins by employees at Great River School in St. Paul and the Hiawatha Academies network of schools in Minneapolis.

For Abby Mesnik, a high school math teacher at Great River, the push to join Education Minnesota required a "boots on the ground" organizing effort given staffers were at home during the pandemic.

"It's a lot different from going to a co-worker's classroom and having a chat about what's going on," she said.

Mesnik was part of a small organizing group that began discussing last August how to have a greater voice in the Montessori school's operations — ultimately landing on unionizing as the most effective option, she said. She loves the school, she added, and cited activities that have included camping in the fall and conducting an embroidery class via Zoom.

"There are a lot of cool things we do and I want to do them in a sustainable way," she said.

Great River has 106 staff members now eligible to join Education Minnesota.

Results announced last week at Hiawatha Academies involve 205 educators. There, employees were cautioned in e-mails from network leaders to take a hard look at joining the statewide union.

Most union dues would go to state and national activities, employees were told. Education Minnesota has opposed the alternative pathways to teacher licensing employed by many charter schools, the e-mails said.

Janiru Herath, a special education math teacher, said he was aware of the union's stance on alternative licensure. But a decision to join Education Minnesota would not require Hiawatha's members to back the position, he added.

"We could be a loud vocal minority. ... They wouldn't be able to dismiss us easily," Herath said.

N'Jai-An Patters, who teaches U.S. government and politics at Hiawatha's high school, said the various campuses in the network are supposed to work together, and staff members should, too, especially for the network's English language learners.

"I would love to see them get more support than they're getting," she said.

After the recent votes, Education Minnesota now has five charter school affiliates. The two chapters now will create their respective governing documents and begin contract talks — a process that may take several months, the union said.

Anthony Lonetree • 612-673-4109