Lusher board votes against recognizing union, likely sending matter to an election

The Lusher Charter School board narrowly voted against voluntarily recognizing a teachers union today.

The vote was 6 to 5, with each voting member of the Advocates for Arts Based Education board present. Every board member but one explained and telegraphed their vote when they addressed the more than 120 audience members.

The tally stood at 5-5 when the roll-call vote was taken, and board member Alysia Kravitz Loshbaugh broke the tie and decided the issue when she voted no.

The issue sprang into public view two weeks ago when union organizers delivered a petition to the board asking for recognition and the chance to start a collective-bargaining process. The move caused deep divisions on the teaching staff and among the school’s parents.

The nascent United Teachers of Lusher now could choose to continue its efforts by working with the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election of the faculty. To do so, the union needs to present the federal group with a petition showing support of 30 percent of the teachers.

Many members of the faculty are already part of the United Teachers of Lusher, which is a chapter of the United Teachers of New Orleans. The decision before the board was whether to recognize the union as a representative of the teachers, and to begin negotiating a collective bargaining contract.

Both union organizers and some board members said today that the existing petition has signatures from 60 percent of those affected.

But that figure, as well as the methods used to collect the signatures, led many board members to vote against it.

Board member Rachael Wisdom said she’s heard from some signatories to the petition that they felt coerced, didn’t fully understand the petition, or thought they were expressing interest in learning more but not supporting a union. She also said some people who signed are not in teaching positions or don’t work at the school and shouldn’t be counted.

If those are removed, “you have less than half,” she said

In making the motion to approve the union, board member Chunlin Leonhard said she considered the costs of a continued struggle over the matter. She and others who supported recognition said 60 percent is a clear majority and those teachers’ wishes should be honored.

Board President Blaine LeCesne said regardless of his thoughts on a union, he believed it was the board’s fiduciary responsibility to recognize the union. He said there are financial costs associated with drawing the issue out, as well as the costs of a divided staff.

But like Wisdom, member Kiki Huston said she had “grave concerns” about validity of the petition. She said the cost of not holding federally supervised secret-ballot election is possibly disenfranchising a majority of teachers.

Fifty nine audience members lined up to address the board. The most common refrain of those opposing union recognition today was that all teachers voices need to be heard, and the best way would be through a vote.

Some teachers who spoke said they were never approached about the matter and asked to sign the petition.

At a meeting earlier this week off campus, union organizers explained their efforts to parents and the public. They made it clear that they did not talk to all teachers and that they approached people strategically. Their goal was to reach a solid majority, and then go to the board.

Teacher Terry Marek, who is part of the organizing committee, said then that their work was done quietly because until the petition was delivered, the organizers didn’t enjoy protections under federal labor laws. Some of those who support a union fear reprisals from the administration, he said.

To get to this stage, the union didn’t need to talk to every teacher. And most opponents of the voluntary recognition said that goes against the basic tenets of democracy because not all teachers were heard from.

At that meeting, and again today, union supporters said the issue wasn’t about money. They said they want a seat at the table when decision about the school are made. And they want an assurance they’ll have a job from year to year.

Teachers now generally are hired for a year, and a renewal is offered at the end of each school year.

Teacher Sara Slaughter addressed the board in support of the union, saying students have gotten together to figure out how many teachers have left recently. She said they came up with 30 in the past four years.

She backs the union to bring predictability to the faculty.

“We need systems in place to ensure consistency for staff and students over time.”

Here’s how the vote broke down:

Against union recognition: Paul Barron, Richard Cortizas, Kravitz Loshbaugh, Huston, Anne Salzer and Wisdom.

For union recognition: Andrea Armstrong, LeCense, Leonhard, Reuben Teague and Carol Whelan.

Below are most of my tweets from the meeting. I didn’t tweet about every speaker, but most. Fair warning: About 200 tweets are included here.


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