Bricolage Academy occupies John McDonogh High School on Esplanade Avenue. (Marta Jewson/The Lens)

Bricolage Academy educators will vote on whether to form a union at the end of the month in an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board, according to a Wednesday press release

The group — Bricolage Academy Educators United, an affiliate of the citywide United Teachers of New Orleans — petitioned the NLRB for a supervised election after the Esplanade Avenue charter school’s board did not respond to their request to voluntarily recognize the union. 

“The decision to form a union must be left up to the staff. We ask the administration to not interfere in this process, or attempt to influence staff before we vote,” seventh grade teacher Jackie James was quoted in the release. “A supermajority of staff have decided that this is how we can best continue to serve our students and our school, so I hope the administration will respect that choice.”

Both Bricolage’s board and administration have publicly discouraged organizing, in some cases using the school’s parent email service to email parents. 

In an email to The Lens Thursday, Bricolage CEO Troave’ Profice wrote that a union is “not in the best interests” of all employees or students.

“Installing a union at Bricolage could change that in ways that will be uncertain at best and negative and divisive at worst as demonstrated by how narrowly and intentionally they created the bargaining unit to purposefully exclude certain employees,” she wrote. “Additionally, despite promises from outside union organizers, the union can provide no guarantee that employees will directly benefit from their membership. Under a union, individual school employees will forfeit their independent voice and their ability to be their own best advocate on issues of importance to them.”

Profice is not the first administrator to discourage the labor organizing process. Neither International High School nor Lusher Charter School opted to recognize employee unions, and both fought the NLRB’s authority when educators went to the federal board.

While Lusher teachers ultimately voted against forming a union, IHS educators voted in favor of one. The IHS board refused to bargain with the union, despite orders from the National Labor Relations Board and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The union and the board have still not negotiated a collective bargaining agreement, but the IHS board recently reached a deal with the union on COVID-19 safety protocols.

Meanwhile two other local charter schools — Benjamin Franklin High School and Morris Jeff Community School — have educators’ unions that were voluntarily recognized by their nonprofit boards.

The Bricolage board has only met once since receiving the group’s petition in late February. At its March 10 meeting, the board met in a closed door session with its lawyers for advice on the union drive. After the private discussion, board president Yvette Jones said the board must do its “due diligence” before it would take a vote on whether to recognize the union. 

Jones did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. But, like Profice, she also appears to be against the union drive. 

On April 24, she penned a letter to Bricolage parents that was distributed through the school’s email platform. 

“The fact that UTNO wants to unionize only some members of the Bricolage community, speaks volumes about ‘unity’ and is contrary to our school’s sense of community,” Jones wrote, noting that certain employees, such as security guards and employees in management positions, would not be part of the union. 

“In truth, nothing that the union can offer is anything that hasn’t already been in place,” she wrote.

“Rest assured that the Board is taking a measured and thoughtful approach to this important issue and that there are no foregone conclusions. This will be a lengthy process, and we are committed to being truthful with our employees and with you throughout,” she wrote. “The fact that we provide an environment that already offers a great deal of what the union says that they will bring to the table does lead us to the perspective that [the United Teachers of New Orleans] cannot deliver the value that they say they would bring to the subset(s) of our employees that the have selected.”

Teachers say the union will give them a say in school decisions.

“Winning our union election will mean that our collective voices as educators will matter just as much as the voices of our Board members,” teacher Brittany Scofield said. “We can’t wait to have a formal system in place to help make decisions about what happens at Bricolage.” 

Educators will vote at the end of the month. 

“While we respect the right of individual employees to choose their own course of action, we will continue to make clear our strongly held position on this issue,” Profice wrote. 

The Bricolage board is scheduled to meet May 12.

The union vote will be held May 28 at the school. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that International High School has refused to bargain with the school’s union. While the school and the union have not reached a collective bargaining agreement, they recently negotiated a limited agreement on COVID safety.

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...