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Coghill teachers end the school year by voting for union representation

On their last day before summer break, Mary D. Coghill Charter School teachers voted to unionize, triggering contract negotiations with the charter school’s board.

Teachers voted 36 to 22 in favor of United Teachers of New Orleans’ representation in the Friday election held by the National Labor Relations Board.

The school’s attorney says it will bargain with the union — but not immediately.

“We look forward to bargaining with the union in good faith when the teachers return from summer vacation,” Coghill’s labor attorney Mag Bickford said in a statement. She has represented two other New Orleans charter schools in labor matters.

Jim Randels, president of United Teachers of New Orleans, said his group is “extremely excited, and look forward to working with the board.”

He said he is happy the board president has said the board would honor the teachers’ decision.

Coghill is the fifth charter school in New Orleans to unionize post-Katrina; it will be the third to move on to contract negotiations. The C-rated school serves 600 students in kindergarten through eighth grades.

The local teachers’ union was all but destroyed after Hurricane Katrina when the Orleans Parish School Board laid off 7,600 public school employees in the months after the storm.

Coghill teachers announced they had formed a union in March. At a meeting in April, teachers and parents spoke passionately in favor of the union.

Teachers said they wanted the union because of poor communication from administrators and unstable leadership. The school has had four principals, including two temporary ones, in the last year.

The union first asked Coghill’s board to voluntarily recognize it and begin contract negotiations. But the board postponed a decision. So the union asked the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election.

So far, two charter boards have voted to voluntarily recognize their teachers’ unions: Benjamin Franklin High School and Morris Jeff Community School. Both now have collective bargaining contracts.

The charter boards that run Lusher Charter School and International High School of New Orleans decided not to recognize their teachers’ unions, forcing elections.

Teachers at Lusher voted against union representation, but a smaller group of teacher’s aides voted in favor. No negotiations have started because the school is still fighting the union before the federal labor board.

International High School’s teachers voted in favor of union representation. Its board, too, is fighting it.

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