Charter Schools

Lusher questions whether federal labor board should be involved in union election

The United Teachers of New Orleans is waiting for the National Labor Relations Board to decide whether it will hold a May 17 unionization election at Lusher Charter School, attorney Louis Robein said Wednesday.

The decision turns on whether federal board has jurisdiction in the case, said Robein, of Robein, Urann, Spencer, Picard & Cangemi. He’s representing the union.

The board held a fact-finding hearing Tuesday, in which Lusher contended that it is a political subdivision, and therefore not subject to the board’s regulation. Lusher officials deferred comment to attorneys for the school, and the lawyer who attended that hearing did not return calls seeking comment.

Not only does the union say Lusher is not a political subdivision, but so did a federal court ruling seven years ago. In that matter, Lusher successfully argued it is not a political subdivision. Instead, it said it’s a nonprofit corporation, and, in that matter, had the right to sue the Orleans Parish School Board over certain fees.

Robein said both Lusher and the union agreed to a May 17 election at both the Freret Street and Willow Street campuses.

Lusher would not confirm the agreement. A spokeswoman sent a short response to Lens questions.

“This is now a labor process which must be resolved by the parties themselves,” spokeswoman Heather Harper said. “I encourage you to contact the legal representatives as you have done.”

The newly created United Teachers of Lusher, a subset of the United Teachers of New Orleans,  asked the federal board to oversee a referendum on unionization after Lusher’s board voted on April 23 against voluntarily recognizing the union.

On April 28, board members unanimously approved a resolution stating the board would remain neutral.

The following day, the board’s top employee, CEO Kathy Riedlinger, sent a strongly worded letter to parents* warning of the damage a union would cause, according to The New Orleans Advocate.

Robein said the labor board is using an expedited process and he hopes to have an answer by Friday.  Union organizers at the school hope to hold a vote before the school year ends.

When asked about the 2010 ruling saying Lusher was not a political subdivision, Robein, who was not involved in that case, said both the judgment and Riedlinger’s affidavit were submitted into evidence Tuesday. Riedlinger’s affidavit argues strongly that Lusher is not an agent of the Orleans Parish School Board, but an independent nonprofit.

The prior court case “figured heavily in yesterday’s testimony and legal arguments,” Robein said Wednesday.

Robein said good faith negotiations were undertaken by both sides. He said the parties reached an understanding on two groups of people who could vote, splitting the teachers from paraprofessionals.

He said it is standard practice in labor negotiations to split employees into “professional” and “nonprofessional” categories.

*Correction: The original story incorrectly said the letter was to teachers. 

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