Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Charter School Chain Accused of Union Busting - Courthouse News Service

Courthouse News Service:

Charter School Chain Accused of Union Busting

 LOS ANGELES (CN) - A chain of public charter schools is using its charter status to harass and threaten teachers for trying to unionize, California's Public Employment Relations Board claims in court.
     The PERB sued Alliance College-Ready Public Charter Schools and its 27 Los Angeles area campuses in Superior Court on Friday.
     United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents thousands of public schoolteachers in collective bargaining, is named as real party in interest.
     An Alliance spokeswoman called it a "dishonest, malicious and desperate" attempt by the teachers union to "intimidate" Alliance leaders.
     It's the latest of dozens of lawsuits over the years to accuse charter schools of using their status as a smokescreen to spend tax dollars without following state and federal laws on public schools.
     "The core of the injunctive complaint is the allegation that the charter schools are engaging in a campaign of anti-union activity," the PERB's General Counsel J. Felix De La Torre told Courthouse News.
     The status quo injunction is intended to "end this pattern of conduct" so the PERB can investigate four charges already before it and determine if state law has been violated, De La Torres said.
     About 70 teachers emailed Alliance's board of directors in March, announcing their intent to unionize with United Teachers and asking Alliance to meet and discuss "a fair and neutral process to organize," the complaint states, citing one of the open letters.
     In response, Alliance sent a 4-page letter "that was critical of UTLA, collective bargaining, and unionization and urged employees not to sign authorization cards," the complaint states.
     Shortly afterward, the board says, principal Lori Rhodes kicked a union representative off an Alliance campus for discussing unionization with teacher Michelle Buckowski. Rhodes then harassed Buckowski, telling her that supporting the union "was an uneducated position," and that Buckowski should "focus on her upcoming formal performance evaluation."
     Neither Rhodes nor Buckowski are named as parties to the complaint.
     Alliance banned several other union reps from its campuses for after-school meetings with teachers, claiming they had no right to enter private property. It harassed teachers it caught handing out "union-related flyers" and ordered them to stop it, according to the complaint.
     Frustrated, United Teachers in April filed two unfair practice charges with the board that accused Alliance of anti-union bias, the complaint states.
     But Alliance continued harassing teachers and union reps by, among other things, spying on meetings between teachers and union organizers; forcing teacher Albert Chu to resign after he discussed unionization with other teachers; blocking emails sent from the union to teachers' work addresses; sending a letter to parents claiming that the union did not have its students' or teachers best interests "at heart;" and posting an online petition opposing organization on its website and demanding that teachers sign it, according to the complaint.
     Alliance runs 27 charter schools for 12,000 students in and around Los Angeles, and more than 84 percent of its money comes from local, state and federal taxes, according to the company's 2014 Annual Report .
     In that report, Alliance reported $320 million in assets, $181 million of it in property.
     Of its $116 million in "Revenue and Support," 71.1 percent ($89.5 million) was "state and local," 13.6 percent ($15.8 million) was "federal," 6.8 percent ($7.8 million) came from private donations, and 2.5 percent ($2.9 million) was designated "other," in the annual report.
     Of its $99.6 million in expenses, 73.9 percent ($73.1 million) went to instruction, 12.6 percent ($12.5 million) to operations and administration, 12.9 percent ($12.8 million) to facilities and interest, and 0.6 percent ($562,664) to fund raising, according to the annual report.
     It is precisely this receipt and spending of tax dollars that should make Alliance and all public charter schools subject to nondiscrimination laws and other state and federal education laws, charter school critics say.
     The PERB filed unfair labor practice complaints against Alliance in late June and scheduled an informal settlement conference for August, "but the parties did not resolve their differences" at the meeting, the complaint states.
     A formal hearing before Administrative Law Judge Morizawa was set for early November, but Alliance kept harassing pro-union teachers and banning organizers from its campuses, prompting the union to file two additional charges, according to the complaint.
     After general counsel De La Torre completed his investigation of the union's complaints in mid-October, he granted its request to seek injunctive relief against Alliance and all of its schools in court, the complaint states.
     "Defendants' alleged chilling conduct in the midst of UTLA's organizing efforts has long been understood as likely to cause an irreparable injury to union representation, because UTLA's position may deteriorate to the point that effective organization and representation is no longer possible, as time passes the benefits of unionization are lost, the spark to organize is extinguished, and the deprivation to employees of representation is immeasurable. Permitting an alleged unfair labor practice to reach fruition and thereby render meaningless PERB's [the board's] remedial authority constitutes irreparable harm," the complaint states.
     Catherine Suitor, chief development and communications officer for Alliance, told Courthouse News in an email that Alliance is "disappointed ... but not completely surprised" at the lawsuit, "given the make-up of the PERB board, the majority of whom are former labor leaders, including several from the California Teachers Association."
     Suitor said Alliance has respected its teachers' right to unionize from the get-go and has allowed teachers to hand out information and freely discuss unionization on and off campus.
     She said Alliance has included its staff in the discussion so everyone can share their opinions and experiences and have access to the facts, "not just opinions from UTLA, an organization that for years has been opposed to charter schools and Alliance in particular."
     "Alliance has been guided by expert legal counsel throughout the campaign and has acted with integrity and transparency. UTLA's attempts to denounce and intimidate Alliance leadership with attacks on our character are dishonest, malicious and desperate," Suitor wrote.
     "The Alliance community is proud of our teachers, and we share their commitment to providing a high-quality education for all students. We remain steadfast in our commitment to always put the needs of students first and foremost. Alliance College-Ready Public Schools expresses our disappointment at the continued divisive and disruptive attacks by UTLA against our schools and teachers."
     The PERB seeks an injunction ordering Alliance to allow union organizers to meet with teachers on its campuses, to stop retaliating against teachers who express interest in unionizing, and to reinstate teacher Chu with full back pay, bonuses and reimbursementCourthouse News Service: