Will the Teachers Union Organize Your Charter School Next?
Two weeks ago, a group of teachers at Lusher Charter School announced that they were forming a labor union in affiliation with the same local and national teachers unions that represented Orleans Parish teachers before Hurricane Katrina, including the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the United Teachers for New Orleans (UTNO). If the union is formed and certified as the teachers’ bargaining representative, Lusher will become the third school in three years to unionize, joining Morris Jeff Community School and Ben Franklin High School. This announcement proves that national and local unions are actively targeting the Louisiana’s charter schools, meaning that a growing number of schools will find themselves facing fundamental challenges from unions to the way they operate their schools and educate their students.
Charter schools facing a union organizing attempt must address at least three major legal and practical questions. First, it is not clear whether employees in Louisiana’s rapidly expanding charter schools have the right to unionize under federal labor laws, so charter schools presented with a union petition will have to decide whether to recognize the union or potentially challenge its authority through legal processes. The National Labor Relations Board has held that charter schools in Illinois are covered by federal labor laws because they are not truly public entities, but other states' charter schools are considered “public” schools that are not subject to such labor laws.
Second, even assuming that charter school employees have a right to join a union, they must prove that a majority of similarly situated employees want the union to be their "exclusive bargaining representative." Just because a teacher signs a piece of paper with the union's name on it does not mean that she/he wants union representation, and schools choosing to recognize a union without reliable proof of a majority support for the union may be breaking the law! In fact, just recently, Lusher teachers, parents and community members publicly voiced their concern about the legitimacy of the signatures gathered by the union to support its request for recognition, and the School's Board of Directors voted not to recognize the union.
Third, when a charter school decides not to voluntarily recognize a union, it is likely that the union will seek an election to attempt to prove its majority support. Typically, a secret-ballot election would be conducted by the National Labor Relations Board, but the union may attempt to handle an election using its own rules. Regardless, a charter school must decide how it will be involved in the election process. If the school remains silent prior to the election, its employees will hear only the union's perspective, and they will not make a fully informed decision because unions do not explain the potential negative impacts of unionization on a charter schools. These include the extra, unanticipated expense of negotiating a collective bargaining agreement on a non-profit school, the inevitable increased cost of operating a school with a union, the strain on employee relations caused when unions intervene and teachers are not allowed to deal directly with school leaders, as well as the realities of union-mandated strikes and union dues, political contributions, and other fees.
Charter schools hearing rumors that their teachers are organizing a union should immediately contact an attorney with experience handling union representation petitions and elections, as well as negotiating collective bargaining agreements so that they can protect the School and its students, families, and employees. Union often organize school employees in secret and without warning, meaning time is of the essence.
Unions are organizing New Orleans' charter schools. Is your school ready?