Charter Schools Insist: Our Teachers Are Public Employees! Or Private Employees! Whichever Means They Can’t Unionize!

Source: Rachel M. Cohen, American Prospect, September 5, 2017

… In February 2017, the NLRB voted 2-1 against IHS’s challenge, concluding that the teachers are indeed private workers under their purview rather than public employees. Yet IHS, still refusing to bargain, is now taking its case to the Fifth Circuit—the first time a federal appellate court will rule on such a challenge. The outcome of this suit could affect labor law for charter teachers not only at IHS, but throughout all the Fifth Circuit states—Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. …

… But which side of the public-or-private controversy charter schools come down on seems to vary with political geography. While in the IHS case, the state charter associations insist that all charter schools should be considered political subdivisions (and therefore public) under the “Hawkins test,” when charter teachers at the Chicago Mathematics & Science Academy filed for union representation with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board in 2010, the school responded by saying its teachers fell under the purview of the NLRB, because their charter was a privately incorporated nonprofit, governed by a corporate board. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the most prominent national charter advocacy organization, filed an amicus brief in support of CSMA’s position, arguing that “charter schools are intended to be and usually are run by corporate entities that are administered independently from the state and local governments in which they operate.” …


Teachers at a fifth New Orleans charter school seeking a union
Source: Jessica Williams, The Advocate, March 28, 2017

Teachers are unionizing at another of New Orleans’ independent charter schools. And, as usual, things have gotten contentious. This time, the faculty at Mary D. Coghill Charter School is pushing for union representation. It’s the fifth campus in the past few years where staff have sought to link up with the United Teachers of New Orleans, a union that once bargained for wages and benefits on behalf of thousands of employees before it was sidelined by the charter movement in the years after Hurricane Katrina. …

National labor board OKs Lusher, International High unions
Source: Danielle Dreilinger, The Times-Picayune, February 1, 2017

The National Labor Relations Board has shot down challenges to two New Orleans charter school unions. That means Lusher Charter School aides and International High School teachers have the right to collectively bargain employment contracts.
The 2-1 board votes came down Wednesday (Feb. 1). … International High plans to appeal the decision, attorney Brooke Duncan III said. … Charter schools are neither fish nor fowl, publicly funded but run by independent nonprofits. The National Labor Relations Board treats them as private employers, which under federal law must bargain with unionized workers. Elected Louisiana school boards don’t. Both schools argued that they should be considered public agencies. … The board’s majority disagreed, writing, “The employer was not created directly by the state so as to constitute a department or administrative arm of the government nor administered by individuals who are responsible to public officials or the general electorate.” …

New Orleans Teachers Discuss The Future Of Unions In Charter Schools
Source: Mallory Falk, WWNO, June 17, 2016

This school year, two high profile New Orleans charter schools attempted to form unions. One voted yes: International High School. One voted no: Lusher Charter School. In light of those votes, teachers around the city shared their perspective on unions since Katrina and where things might go from here. … But schools with unhappy teachers can be harder to organize, because the staff leaves or isn’t asked to return the following year. The higher the churn, the harder to build union momentum.  Masterson says it’s no coincidence that Franklin was one of the first charter schools to unionize. Teachers there tend to stick around. It’s also a standalone charter school – the same as all the schools that have bid for unions so far. They’re much easier to organize than an entire charter network. … But the union victory isn’t assured. Both International High School and Lusher are challenging the union elections, saying the National Labor Relations Board doesn’t have the right to hold elections at charter schools because they’re public, government bodies. …

Lusher teachers reject union for collective bargaining
Source: Danielle Dreilinger, New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 17, 2016

Lusher Charter School teachers rejected a union bid for collective bargaining Tuesday (May 17), a setback in organized labor’s budding effort to reclaim its place in New Orleans public education. … The vote among professional staff was 54 in favor and 77 against, National Labor Relations Board supervising field attorney Kevin McClue said. A majority vote was needed to have United Teachers of New Orleans represent Lusher’s faculty. Lusher attorney Mag Bickford said there was one additional vote challenged. A second, much smaller group of paraprofessionals voted for union representation, 8-5, with three additional votes challenged, McClue said. … Lusher’s board voted 6-5 in April against recognizing the union, setting up the National Labor Relations Board intervention. The board also adopted a policy that it would remain neutral in Tuesday’s vote. President Blaine LeCesne said earlier in the day the board would not issue a statement Tuesday.

Board member resigns at Lusher; International High School administrators challenge union election
Source: Jessica Williams, The Advocate, May 13, 2016

A member of Lusher Charter School’s governing board has resigned in the face of continued on-campus strife ahead of a union election scheduled for Tuesday. Meanwhile, International High School of New Orleans administrators formally challenged the National Labor Relations Board’s right to oversee a separate union election at that school, even though the board already has affirmed its right to conduct the Lusher election. The moves are the latest developments in the ongoing push to unionize the two New Orleans charters, efforts that administrators on both campuses have staunchly resisted. … Andrea Armstrong, the Lusher board member who resigned last week, voted in favor of formally recognizing the union. The board, however, last month narrowly rejected the request to unionize, which prompted the teachers to petition the national board to host an election at the school. Armstrong would not elaborate on the reasons for her resignation Friday, but she has said in the past that she feared a union election, as opposed to the board’s voluntarily granting the request for a union, would inflame campus tensions. …

Union election is a go at Lusher Charter School, national labor board official rules
Source: Jessica Williams, The Advocate, May 11, 2016

NLRB Regional Director M. Kathleen McKinney sided with the union Tuesday, saying that because Lusher administrators are not responsible to the voting public and the school was not created directly by the state, it is not a local government, and the NLRB is free to oversee a union election there. “Entities created by private individuals are not ‘created directly by’ the state, even if they are created with the collaboration of the state to serve a public function on behalf of the state,” McKinney wrote, rejecting Lusher’s claim that charter schools are agents of the state because they are authorized by state law. Also, McKinney said, even though Lusher’s attorneys argued that the school is subject to the oversight of the elected Orleans Parish School Board and via that oversight is accountable to the public, the Lusher board in fact selects its own members, and there is no proof that Lusher board members have ever been appointed or removed by a public official or by the electorate. … The Lusher decision has big implications as well for the International High School of New Orleans, another school where teachers seeking a union have requested an NLRB-managed election and the administration planned to challenge that board’s jurisdiction.

Labor board says Lusher teachers will vote next week on joining union
Marta Jewson, The Lens, May 10, 2016

Teachers at Lusher Charter School will vote next week on whether they want to unionize, the National Labor Relations Board ruled Tuesday. The federal agency will hold a secret-ballot election May 17 at the Freret Street and Willow Street campuses. Regional Director M. Kathleen McKinney concluded that Lusher is subject to the labor board’s jurisdiction, contrary to the school’s argument that it’s not because it’s a local government entity. … Next week, teachers will also vote on whether they will join with paraprofessionals, such as teacher assistants, to negotiate their employment terms. If not, they’ll deal with the school administration separately. Since Lusher teachers started to organize, some teachers at International High School of New Orleans have said they too want to create a union. …

Some teachers at International High asking federal labor board to hold union vote
Source: Marta Jewson, The Lens, May 9, 2016

Educators at the International High School of New Orleans are asking a federal labor board to organize their union election, and the charter school’s board plans to discuss related potential litigation this week. It’s the fourth New Orleans charter school with teachers involved in unionization for collective bargaining, and the second whose union-minded educators have filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board. United Teachers of IHSNO say the school’s board did not respond to a request for voluntary recognition. … The request to the federal board came shortly after the United Teachers of New Orleans filed the same paperwork regarding Lusher Charter School.  After a board vote to voluntarily recognize Lusher’s union failed 5-6, the United Teachers of New Orleans filed with the labor board for a representation election. The first two charter schools to establish collective-bargaining units in the city post-Katrina were Morris Jeff Community School and Benjamin Franklin High School. Morris Jeff’s board voted voluntarily to recognize the union, as did Franklin’s. Franklin’s board eventually negotiated a collective-bargaining agreement in March of 2015. …

New Orleans charter school official blasts teachers unions, urges Lusher faculty to reject union drive
Source: Jessica Williams, The Advocate, May 7, 2016

The vice president of the board that governs the Choice Foundation, a three-school charter network in New Orleans, urged Lusher Charter School teachers last week to vote against forming a union, highlighting long-standing tensions between unions and charter schools. Lusher is not among the schools run by the Choice Foundation. Robbie Evans, who also is chief executive officer of the trading company Con-Tech International, said he decried unions in an email to dozens of Lusher teachers because he sees unions as an impediment to charter schools’ progress. … Local unions have fought against changes in teacher tenure laws and against charter school funding in recent years. The AFT says charter schools tend to empower management at the expense of teachers, who are left without any job security or any formal means of influencing decision-making at their schools. The question of whether Lusher administrators may attempt to sway teachers’ opinions and challenge a scheduled vote on unionization is being debated by members of that school’s independent board. … Evans, who does not have a child at Lusher, said no administrators or board members at Lusher asked him to send his email.

Lusher Charter School administration challenges federal agency’s right to oversee teachers unionization election
Source: Jessica Williams, The Advocate, May 4, 2016

Lusher Charter School administrators have formally challenged the ongoing push to unionize that school’s educators, disputing a federal agency’s right to oversee a local union election. The New Orleans school’s attorneys say because Lusher is a “political subdivision,” in effect a local government, it does not fall under the purview of the National Labor Relations Board, the agency slated to host an upcoming union vote at the school. … Lusher’s new position could scuttle the election, tentatively slated for May 17. Prolonged consideration of the latest challenge — even if the union camp ultimately prevails — could delay a vote past the end of the school year, meaning many teachers might be gone. …

Lusher administration calls unionizing drive divisive, power grab
Source: Jessica Williams, The Advocate, May 2, 2016

The head of Lusher Charter School and her administrative team have come out swinging against the push to unionize teachers at the high-performing New Orleans magnet school, calling the move a divisive power grab that won’t benefit students. It’s the first big showdown between school managers and the union that used to represent local educators before it was sidelined by the state takeover of most local schools that followed Hurricane Katrina. … Their letter, signed by CEO Kathy Riedlinger and five other administrators on Friday, came a day after Lusher’s board pledged to stay neutral on the issue — warning teachers not to employ coercion to try to get their colleagues to endorse the union but saying the board would remain above the fray. Riedlinger and her top deputies, on the other hand, were emphatic. “In our opinion, introducing a union into Lusher will negatively affect direct communication of administration with teachers, add an additional layer of bureaucracy and feed an adversarial tone that has not previously been part of the atmosphere at Lusher,” their letter said. … Members of the school’s board faced a tricky decision. They have heard an earful from both sides. Organizers say more than 60 percent of the faculty have signed a petition in favor of the union, but a handful of the signers then backed out. By a close vote, board members declined last month to voluntarily recognize the group. But that only cleared the way for the National Labor Relations Board to oversee a secret ballot among teachers at Lusher, likely before the school year ends. The board has said it will remain neutral until that vote. …

Why Lusher Charter School board staying neutral on union issue
Source: Jessica Williams, The Advocate, April 28, 2016

The Lusher Charter School board voted Thursday to stay neutral on whether the school’s teachers should be allowed to unionize, even though members have expressed opinions on the issue in the past. The board also passed a resolution saying the teachers should be free from coercion and hostility while they ponder their choice over the next several weeks. … The resolution, which passed unanimously, comes as those on either side of the issue have mounted campaigns to sway opinion in recent weeks. It also comes after a divided board last week refused to recognize teachers’ request to link up with the United Teachers of New Orleans. UTNO, a 5,000-member union before Hurricane Katrina, is a local branch of the American Federation of Teachers. Its power was almost completely dismantled after the state took over the city’s failing schools after Katrina and began moving toward charters.

Teachers Look to Unionize at Another New Orleans Charter School
Source: Rachel Cohen, American Prospect, April 26, 2016

Earlier this month, teachers at Lusher Charter School, an arts-based K-12 school in New Orleans, went public with their intent to unionize. Sixty percent of teachers, teacher assistants, and other Lusher staff signed a petition in support, but over the weekend the Lusher board voted 6–5 against recognizing their union. Now the teachers will ask the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election. If the teachers prevail, Lusher would become the third charter school to unionize in New Orleans, the city with the highest density of charter schools in the country. The first two—Benjamin Franklin High School and Morris Jeff Community School—formed their unions last year. Ben Franklin staff signed the first collective-bargaining agreement for New Orleans teachers since Hurricane Katrina. … Since going public, Lusher teachers have been working to explain to parents and community members why they feel a union is right for them. Some parents wondered if collective bargaining would disrupt Lusher’s unique school culture, or if students’ educations would somehow be harmed. Unionized educators at Ben Franklin and Morris Jeff have also been helping to assuage the concerns of Lusher parents by telling them what having a union has meant for their schools. … Lusher is also considered one of the best schools in the state, and Morris Jeff has received national recognition for its approach to creating a diverse student body. This has led some people to wonder why it’s New Orleans’s top schools that are opting to unionize, not others. … Sanders notes that Lusher has far less turnover year to year than some other charters in New Orleans. She points to Richard Ingersoll, a University of Pennsylvania education researcher who has found that one of the main factors influencing whether teachers stay at or leave a school is how much voice they have in making decisions that affect their job. Increasing teacher voice, job security, and transparency, Sanders believes, will help to keep her school stable and strong.

Lusher Charter School Board Rejects Petition To Recognize Union
Source: Mallory Falk, WNNO, April 25, 2016

This weekend the Lusher Charter School board rejected a petition to recognize a teachers union and start a collective bargaining process. The vote came after hours of public comment from over 50 people, mostly teachers but also parents and community members. Many spoke in support of the union. … Some board members pushed to recognize the union and spare the school a possibly contentious election. But others said 60% of teachers signing on isn’t a large enough majority, especially given concerns that some signatures aren’t valid. The board voted 6-5 to reject the petition.

There are now 3 unionized charters in New Orleans as Lusher joins
Source: Danielle Dreilinger, New Orleans Times-Picayune, April 11, 2016

More than a decade after New Orleans’ teacher union lost its force and the city atomized into independent charters, a third charter school has formed a union: Lusher. The teachers and staff want to “improve working conditions, job security and transparency,” the United Teachers of New Orleans and American Federation of Teachers said Monday (April 11). They are seeking recognition from the charter’s board and a collectively bargained contract. This means that the city’s two top-scoring public schools are now unionized. Faculty at Ben Franklin High are also a federation affiliate. The first charter union in the city (and the state) formed in 2013 at Morris Jeff Community School. …