This Tucson Teacher Was Frustrated With His School’s Leadership—So He Started a Union

Duncan Hasman (middle) and other members of the BASIS Tucson North union's organizing committee. (Photo courtesy of Duncan Hasman)

By Jessica Swarner

May 2, 2023

“There was a real recognition that there were things that needed to change.” 

Teachers from BASIS North Tucson voted 34-17 last month to become the first unionized charter school in Arizona. 

The educators will be represented by the American Federation of Teachers’ Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff. Only about 12% of charter schools have unionized in the US.

Duncan Hasman, a Spanish teacher for grades 8-10, began the effort to unionize two years ago during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Tucson native has taught at BASIS North Tucson for 10 years. 

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Hasman, 32, and other teachers sent a letter to the school’s leadership saying they felt the school was reopening too early during the pandemic to be safe, despite the staff’s best efforts to be prepared.

Hasman said the teachers were concerned because they “weren’t part of the conversation about how all of this would be implemented in the return to campus.” The letter trying to remedy this went ignored, he said, leaving them feeling frustrated.  

“I think that the moment for me that made things so clear, [that] the need for a union was there, was teachers were being largely left out of the conversation about basically every aspect of our work, including the safety protocols that were going to be instituted,” Hasman told The Copper Courier. 

Getting the Movement Started

Prior to the April 12 vote, Hasman said he consulted with other teachers he knew in the area and personal contacts for advice on starting the process to unionize. 

When he brought the idea to the school, he said he received a mixed response. Some teachers were enthusiastic, while others were fearful of the school’s response. 

“But at the same time,” he said, “there was a real recognition that there were things that needed to change. And with our victory in the vote, it looks like most people believe that the process of unionization will help address those issues.”

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Hasman said it was scary to assert the teachers’ needs to the school, but he didn’t feel surveilled or retaliated against. The school did push back against the unionization though with anti-union literature and anti-union messaging at staff meetings, according to Hasman and another union leader. 

Phil Handler, vice president of communications for BASIS, wrote in an email to The Copper Courier that the company leadership “respect the teachers at BASIS Tucson North and their right to vote on this matter.”

“We remain focused on the best interests of students at BASIS Tucson North, and making sure this school remains one of the best in Arizona and the nation,” Handler wrote. “We will keep working hard to ensure that’s the case, while following the law and negotiating in good faith with the union.” 

The next steps for the union are to build up support in the community and prepare to bargain for a contract, Hasman said. 

He said the union is still working on outlining its top priorities for bargaining, but one they want to see is more counseling and nursing services for students.

Hasman said they also want an overhaul of the paid time off system so that teachers don’t feel compelled to continue working while sick in order to receive their attendance bonus. They’d also like to change the system for assigning substitutes, as teachers can currently have their class schedules changed in the middle of the year without the ability to renegotiate pay. 

A Source of Pride

Hasman said he comes from a long line of educators, and, despite not expecting to end up teaching himself, he “fell in love” with the profession. 

“I’m just fascinated with the process of pedagogy, with the process of lesson planning and designing material that gives students the opportunity to develop … a skill that they can bring to other people and use to build connections and to show their love and appreciation for the world and for other people,” he said. 

Hasman researched the impacts of unionizing on students before pushing forward with the movement to make sure he wouldn’t cause any harm. He said many students have approached the union with curiosity and support, and he felt proud to be part of a larger movement empowering workers. 

“I do hope that … [students] understand that there are tools out there for those of them that become workers to stick up for themselves in a similar way and to organize and to make connections with the other workers in whatever career they find themselves in the future,” he said. 

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  • Jessica Swarner

    Jessica Swarner is the community editor for The Copper Courier. She is an ASU alumna and previously worked at KTAR News 92.3 FM in Phoenix.

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