International High School of New Orleans employees voted 26-18 in favor of unionizing at a labor board election today.

Teachers voted to join with paraprofessionals and ultimately in favor of United Teachers of New Orleans negotiating a collective contract on their behalf. One vote was challenged, but it won’t be counted because it wouldn’t affect the outcome.

“It’s a great day for teachers in the city of New Orleans,” UTNO President Larry Carter said.

He said they look forward to working with school leaders and doing what’s best for kids. Head of School Sean Wilson said he values the teachers and their voice and is refocusing attention on the next school year.

Union supporters wore small buttons, while opponents wore T-shirts that read “Vote ISHNO” with letters ‘no’ in a box and on the back: “If you CAN READ, thank a teacher. If you cannot, thank a teacher’s union.”

Only one collective bargaining agreement for public teachers has been negotiated in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina all but destroyed the union, after the state took over a majority of schools and chartered them to dozens of nonprofits. Benjamin Franklin High School voluntarily recognized the union and its teachers, with UTNO’s representation, successfully negotiated a contract last spring.

Last year, Morris Jeff Community School’s board voluntarily recognized a union at the charter school as well. Morris Jeff’s board planned to discuss the item in a closed-door executive session Monday, and a school administrator confirmed today the two sides are still negotiating.

The union drive at International High was announced just days after teachers at Lusher Charter School began a similar effort. Teachers at Lusher voted against unionizing last week, but separately, a smaller group of paraprofessionals approved the union.

All four drives came with the assistance of UTNO, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers. The national union has lead a recent push in the New Orleans area, investing heavily in the 2014 Jefferson Parish school board race and most recently at Lusher and International.

A day after Lusher’s vote, The New Orleans Advocate reported International High School’s principal and board chairman emailed staff and told them they would have “an opportunity to let UTNO know it has no place at IHSNO either.”

The union asked International High’s nonprofit board to voluntarily recognize United Teachers of New Orleans as their bargaining agent. The board never formally responded, leading the union to request a National Labor Relations Board supervised election.

At a labor board hearing two weeks ago, the school’s attorney, Brooke Duncan, argued the charter was a public school created by state law and therefore not subject to the labor board’s authority.

UTNO lawyer Louis Robein argued the charter was a private nonprofit that operates under an agreement with the state, and therefore is a private employer and subject to the labor board. A regional director ruled in favor of the union, leading to today’s election.

Teachers cast their votes during a three hour window that ended at 11:30 a.m., then gathered in the school’s community room for vote tallying. Union representatives, school board members, Duncan, and others joined the labor board agent in tallying the votes.

The labor board generally allows the public to attend vote counting, but school administration banned the public from the count. Members of the news media were allowed to wait in an adjacent room.

United Teachers of New Orleans will negotiate a contract with the school’s board on behalf of International High employees. The contract will be unique to the school.

The school could continue to challenge the labor board’s jurisdiction, as Lusher’s administration did in a brief filed Wednesday.

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...