Teachers are unionizing at another of New Orleans' independent charter schools. And, as usual, things have gotten contentious.
This time, the faculty at Mary D. Coghill Charter School is pushing for union representation.
It's the fifth campus in the past few years where staff have sought to link up with the United Teachers of New Orleans, a union that once bargained for wages and benefits on behalf of thousands of employees before it was sidelined by the charter movement in the years after Hurricane Katrina.
At other New Orleans charter schools, the debate over unionizing has been fierce, and teachers at Coghill may have an uphill battle as well.
The push has already brought about a lawsuit. A teacher named Carla Jupiter, claiming she was fired for trying to organize fellow staff members, described in the suit a faculty party where she said the school's former principal blared a song called "Loyal" by R&B singer Chris Brown, a reference to supposedly disloyal employees the principal had fired.
That lawsuit ended with a settlement, the terms of which weren't disclosed.
The principal, Aisha Jones, is no longer employed by the school. Attempts to reach Jones for comment were not successful.
But the union effort at Coghill continues.
UTNO officials last week said that more than 93 percent of Coghill’s teachers have signed a petition requesting that the school's charter board recognize UTNO as their bargaining representative. Whether they will succeed in getting the board's approval is uncertain, however.
Renewed organizing efforts by UTNO in the past few years have led to collective bargaining agreements at two charters, Benjamin Franklin High School on the Lakefront and Morris Jeff Community School in Mid-City.
Drives at two other schools, International High and Lusher Charter, have been less successful. The boards of both schools rejected requests to recognize UTNO last year, forcing teachers to appeal to the National Labor Relations Board.
Administrators at both of those schools also claim they are exempt from a federal law that requires employers to recognize and negotiate with any organized group. The NLRB ruled against them on that point in February; attorneys for the two schools have said they will continue to fight the decision in court.
It’s unclear at this point how Coghill's board will react to the petition. Board President Audrey Woods hedged this week when asked if she backed the idea of recognizing the union, saying she needed to talk to more teachers.
“Because I support (teachers),” Woods said. “We have not spoken with them other than passing in the hallways.”
The matter is unlikely to come up Thursday when one of the board’s committees meets, but it will be considered at a future meeting, she added.
The November lawsuit from Jupiter, the fired teacher, suggests that Jones was not a fan of the idea of a union.
Jupiter sued Coghill’s charter management group, the Better Choice Foundation, plus Jones and state education officials for damages nearly a year after she was fired in December 2015. Jupiter said Jones began looking for a way to get rid of her after Jupiter began attending board meetings and recruiting teachers to join a Coghill branch of UTNO.
She also said Jones was threatened by her talent and qualifications because Jupiter has a principal’s certification. To get rid of her out, she said, Jones asked Jupiter to train one employee to perform some of her work, then hired another person to complete the rest of Jupiter’s tasks. She then fired Jupiter, the suit claims.