NEW ORLEANS, La. – The United Teachers New Orleans union is working to unionize its fifth charter school in the city, which rebuilt the local school system with independent charter schools in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

UTNO officials announced last week that more than 93 percent of teachers at Mary D. Coghill Charter School signed a petition demanding that the charter school’s board recognize the union as their collective bargaining representative, The Advocate reports.

And while the board’s approval for the move is uncertain, the effort has already produced one lawsuit that alleges officials are conspiring against union organizers.

Teacher Carla Jupiter sued Coghill’s charter management group, the Better Choice Foundation, state education officials, and former principal Aisha Jones, alleging Jones fired her and other employees in retaliation for their work attempting to launch a union at the school.

According to The Advocate:

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. …

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. 

That lawsuit has since been settled, though the terms of the settlement are not public.

Last spring, UTNO successfully unionized International High School of New Orleans in a contentious 26-18 vote that split staff over the issue, with opponents wearing shirts that read “Vote ISHNO” with the letters “no” in a box. On the back of the shirts it read: “If you CAN READ, thank a teacher. If you cannot, thank a teacher’s union,” according to The Lens.

The union victory was the second since Hurricane Katrina demolished the school district and the state took over the chronically poor performing schools and chartered them to nonprofits. In the years since, student learning has greatly improved as charters instituted student-centered policies without the need to confer with union officials, but UTNO has slowly worked to regain a foothold in the district.

Benjamin Franklin High School voluntarily recognized the union in 2015, followed by Morris Jeff Community School. But other unionization efforts have been marred with legal fights, including pushes to unionize staff at International High School and Lusher Charter.

“Administrators at both of those schools … claim they are exempt from federal law that requires employers to recognize and negotiate with any organized group,” The Advocate reports. “The NLRB rules against them on that point in February; attorneys for the two schools have said they will continue to fight the decision in court.”

Leaders at Coghill have not yet revealed how they plan to deal with the unionization effort there.

Board President Audrey Woods told The Advocate the board will likely discuss the initiative in upcoming board meetings.

Woods said any decision will come after speaking with educators at the school.

“We have not spoken with them other than passing in the hallways,” she said.

 

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