In an effort to stave off any future attempts by teachers to unionize, Lusher Charter School administrators on Tuesday fired off an appeal of a recent ruling that the National Labor Relations Board has the right to oversee union elections at the Uptown school.
Meanwhile, an effort by International High School of New Orleans teachers to unionize has been decried by leaders at that school, who also have questioned the federal agency’s jurisdiction and have criticized the union in emails to teachers.
Lusher attorneys on Tuesday filed a request for review with the national office of the National Labor Relations Board, challenging a regional director’s decision that the agency has the right to oversee union elections at the school.
International High, which also was found to be under the agency’s jurisdiction, has not yet decided whether to file its own appeal.
The dogged resistance to union organizing showcases the divide between unions and charter schools in New Orleans. Only two charters in the city — Benjamin Franklin High School and Morris Jeff Community School — have approved teachers unions thus far.
The United Teachers of New Orleans had recently made inroads at Lusher during a yearlong organizing drive. But after the Lusher board declined to approve the union, teachers voted 77-54 against union representation.
A smaller group of paraprofessionals voted 8-5 to unionize. Three additional votes by paraprofessionals have been challenged, but if the final total is in favor, that group could petition Lusher’s board for a collective bargaining contract.
At International High, 71 percent of teachers signed a petition to link up with the local union. After hearing nothing from administrators, teachers asked the federal agency to host an election, which is set for Friday.
In their appeal, Lusher administrators argue that because the school is a “political subdivision” of Louisiana — in effect a local government — the national board has no business meddling in its affairs. That claim is a switch from Lusher’s earlier stance in an unrelated lawsuit, in which it argued that it was not a local governing body.
NLRB Regional Director M. Kathleen McKinney found that because Lusher administrators are not responsible to the voting public and the school was not created directly by the state, it is not a local government. The school also is not a political subdivision because the Lusher board selects its own members, she said.
But Lusher attorney Mag Bickford said McKinney should have more closely examined Lusher’s actual operations and Louisiana law, which provides for the creation of charter schools and for the Orleans Parish School Board’s direct oversight of Lusher. The OPSB is a political subdivision.
Bickford also argued that “asserting (the NLRB’s) jurisdiction in this case would not promote stability in labor relations” because it would create different sets of rules for charter schools and conventional public schools, which by policy are free from federal agency oversight.
That threat of separate organizing rules is a major concern of the charter school community at large and is a likely reason why Lusher is pressing on, even though most of its teachers voted the union down, union attorney Louis Robein said.
“This is the big deal — the worldview. They don’t like the labor board assuming jurisdiction,” he said.
Although International High School attorney Brooke Duncan III said that school has not decided whether to continue its formal challenge, the school’s administrators have openly criticized the union.
A day after the union’s defeat at Lusher, International High Head of School Sean Wilson, board Chairman Harry Blumenthal and Vice Chairwoman Carol Allen sent an email to staff members that hailed the result.
“Clearly, the teachers at Lusher came to understand that UTNO had no place on their campus,” they wrote. “In a couple of weeks, you also will have an opportunity to let UTNO know that it has no place at IHSNO either.”
International High’s teachers recently were offered three-year employment contracts, a move that union organizers said could be a violation of a federal law that bans promises of better working conditions or attempts to coerce employees right before a union election.
“That to me, shows that they are getting pretty desperate,” math teacher Frank Ruszicka said.
Duncan said the three-year contract offers had been in the works long before unionization efforts were underway, though he said they were only “put into effect” within the past two weeks.
“To say that the three-year contract was offered as some sort of unlawful inducement to convince people to vote against the union is ridiculous,” he said.
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.