Will union’s unexpected defeat at Lusher School prove to be an exception or the rule? Time will tell _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--Lusher Charter School's Alcee Fortier Campus is seen in New Orleans, La. Thursday, April 14, 2016.

The Lusher Charter School board voted Thursday to stay neutral on whether the school’s teachers should be allowed to unionize, even though members have expressed opinions on the issue in the past.

The board also passed a resolution saying the teachers should be free from coercion and hostility while they ponder their choice over the next several weeks.

“We want them to get relevant information for their decision-making and not be pushed or approached by people,” board member Rachel Wisdom said.

The resolution, which passed unanimously, comes as those on either side of the issue have mounted campaigns to sway opinion in recent weeks. It also comes after a divided board last week refused to recognize teachers’ request to link up with the United Teachers of New Orleans.

UTNO, a 5,000-member union before Hurricane Katrina, is a local branch of the American Federation of Teachers. Its power was almost completely dismantled after the state took over the city’s failing schools after Katrina and began moving toward charters.

But the union recently has experienced a small revival in the form of site-based unions at two charter schools, Benjamin Franklin High School and Morris Jeff Community School. Teachers at the International High School of New Orleans also have asked that school’s board to recognize an UTNO chapter, and a board vote could come next month.

At Lusher, however, the drive has been contentious. At least three educators who signed a union petition later asked the board to remove their names, which caused some board members to question the petition’s validity. In addition, only 60 percent of the faculty signed the petition at all, the lowest percentage at any of the local charters seeking to unionize.

Advocates say a union will give them a voice in school decisions and more job security. They have accused the anti-union camp at Lusher of using unsavory tactics to diminish union support, such as pressuring employees to publicly reject a union and putting up signs urging the board to let every teacher vote on the matter.

Union critics say the organizers do not have the full support of the faculty and appear to be organizing out of spite.

Given the hoopla, the board rejected the petition for union recognition, leaving the issue to be settled by a secret faculty election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board. That election likely will occur by May, board Chairman Blaine LeCesne said.

If a majority of teachers choose a union, the board is required to bargain with that body.

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.