Lusher Charter School administrators have formally challenged the ongoing push to unionize that school’s educators, disputing a federal agency’s right to oversee a local union election.
The New Orleans school’s attorneys say because Lusher is a “political subdivision,” in effect a local government, it does not fall under the purview of the National Labor Relations Board, the agency slated to host an upcoming union vote at the school.
The new 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.
Lusher’s new position could scuttle the election, tentatively slated for May 17. Prolonged consideration of the latest challenge — even if the union camp ultimately prevails — could delay a vote past the end of the school year, meaning many teachers might be gone.
The challenge is the latest development in an organizing drive that has sharply divided Lusher’s community. Union proponents say linking up with the United Teachers of New Orleans will give teachers a greater voice on the campus, while school administrators and some teachers say the union would bring only trouble to the high-performing charter.
The head of Lusher, Kathy Riedlinger, and five of her deputies sent a sharply worded letter to teachers last week, decrying the unionizing push as a divisive power grab. Another letter, sent anonymously to teachers, painted union sympathizers as pawns in national organizing plans.
UTNO is a local affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, a national union that has invested big bucks to help the once-dominant local union regain a foothold in the city after Hurricane Katrina and the state’s takeover of most schools left the union impotent a decade ago.
The National Labor Relations Board entered the fray after Lusher’s board last month narrowly rejected a petition to unionize signed by 60 percent of the school’s educators, amid impassioned arguments from both sides and second thoughts from some of the petition signers.
The local board has since pledged to stay neutral on the issue and has forbidden teachers from trying to coerce colleagues before the vote.
But Lusher’s administrators apparently are seeking to halt the election entirely.
In a “statement of position” sent to the federal agency, attorneys for Lusher said that because the school is a local government, the national board, under its own policy, has no right to get involved.
Political subdivisions are either state-created or are run by people who are responsible to the general electorate, attorneys Angelina Christina, Magdalen Bickford and Camille Bryant, of the firm McGlinchey Stafford, argued. Lusher falls in both categories, they said, because state law provides for charter schools’ creation and because its administrators are accountable to the elected Orleans Parish School Board.
“For those reasons, (Lusher) respectfully suggests that it is not subject to the (federal) board’s jurisdiction,” they wrote.
But in 2009, attorneys James Brown and Elisabeth Lorio Baer, of the Liskow and Lewis firm, argued in a suit against the Orleans Parish School Board over administrative fees that Lusher was a nonprofit corporation, not a political subdivision, and as such was allowed to sue its authorizing board. U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon ultimately ruled in Lusher’s favor, concluding that state law does not cast Lusher as a political subdivision.
The Louisiana Attorney General’s Office also has said charter schools are not political subdivisions, while separately concluding that charters are subject to some of the same budgeting rules that apply to subdivisions.
Aside from challenging the federal agency’s jurisdiction, Lusher’s leaders also called into question the number of educators who may participate if a vote is indeed held. However, the two sides reached an accord Tuesday, union organizer and creative writing teacher Brad Richard said.
He said they agreed that the following are eligible to vote: full-time teachers, regular part-time professional employees, social workers, nurses, librarians, counselors and deans of students, as well as full-time and regular part-time teacher assistants, child-specific aides, library clerks, counseling clerks, parent-community liaisons, special service coordinators and the school/home liaison.
It’s not clear when the National Labor Relations Board’s regional director will rule on Lusher’s challenge to the planned election.
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.