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UTLA files complaint against Alliance charters over unionization

Bethania Palma Markus | April 8, 2015

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The LA teachers union, UTLA, has filed a complaint with the Public Employment Relations Board, accusing Alliance College-Ready Public Schools of interfering with the union’s right to organize teachers in the 26 Alliance schools.

The complaint was filed last night, UTLA said in a press release that outlined a series of steps that the union says are disrupting efforts to bring the Alliance teachers under the UTLA umbrella. It accuses school administrators of “using coercive tactics and interfering with educators’ right to form a union.”

“Educators formed Alliance Educators United, affiliated with United Teachers Los Angeles, on March 13, 2015, to have a real voice in advocating for both themselves and their students,” the union said. “The teachers, counselors and other professional staff are seeking genuine due process and ‘just cause’ rights, and the right to bargain over conditions of employment.”

The complaint was filed Tuesday night with assertions that Alliance is prohibiting teachers from using their workplaces to meet with organizers and share information about unionizing.

“When teachers announced we were organizing a union, Alliance publicly stated that we, the teachers would be able to decide for ourselves free of coercion,” Elana Goldbaum, a history teacher at Alliance Gertz-Ressler High School, said in the union release. “But since that time they are trying to persuade teachers against unionization.”

Among the accusations cited by the union is Alliance’s use of “funds that could be used for student education to hire high-priced PR consultants, to create an anti-union website.” It further said Alliance is “sending a steady stream of anti-union letters and emails to educators, parents, and alumni. Even students have been exposed to the anti-union campaign through Alliance’s web site.”

Union president Alex Caputo-Pearl told LA School Report, “The educators at Alliance are trying to assert a democratically protected right to organize a union and the Alliance management is interfering and interfering in an illegal way.”

Alliance said in a response today: “We respect the rights of our teachers to organize a union, and we also respect the rights of those teachers who do not want a union – and we repeatedly state that fact. We also recognize the rights of all Alliance staff to share their opinions, facts and experiences about unionization. In fact, we believe it is our responsibility to ensure our teachers have a full set of facts to make an informed decision – not just opinions from UTLA, an organization that for years has been opposed to charter schools and Alliance in particular.”

Efforts to unionize the charter school district were made public in mid-March when about 70 teachers with the newly-formed group, Alliance Educators United, announced their intention to form a union. Unionization requires approval from 50 percent-plus-one of the charter’s roughly 600 teachers.

But UTLA’s effort is driving a wedge between some who favor the union and some who oppose. according to interviews yesterday before the complaint was filed.

“It seems like there are teachers that are in the know, and then we just get the propaganda, and that’s it,” said Kip Morales, who teaches at Alliance Patti and Peter Neuwirth Leadership Academy. “My uncertainty and confusion might tell you a little bit about them trying to unionize us.”

“It has caused a friction, hurt the morale,” said Tina Wyatt, a teacher at Alliance Collins Family High School. “Several of the teachers said they were on board and then realized they didn’t want any part of this.”

Alliance officials called the UTLA effort self-serving, saying working conditions and student performance at the district are already above par.

“The experience we have had with them has been years of antagonism for charter schools,” said Catherine Suitor, communications officer for Alliance. “Their number-one guy [school board member Bennett Kayser] has literally voted not to renew every Alliance school, including some of the top performing ones in LAUSD. We find it disingenuous when after all these years they’ve been trying to undercut everything we do.”

In its statement today, Alliance said, “We’ve heard from a number of teachers that they feel harassed by UTLA’s communications tactics to strong arm them to join a union that they have no interest in being a part of.”

The efforts to unionize will continue despite the administrators’ opposition, Goldbaum said.

“It’s definitely growing,”  she told LA School Report, referring to the campaign. “We continue to have more and more support. It’s definitely one for endurance, I only say that because the response from Alliance has been so anti-union.”

Goldbaum said a union of Alliance teachers would affect Alliance teachers only. While she expressed enthusiasm about her workplace, she said decisions about things like teacher evaluation and classroom technology are too top-down and teachers need more job security.

“We have a disturbing amount of turnover. A good way to alleviate that is to have a union,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of power in being able to contribute to decisions without fear. When you take away the fear of retaliation, it makes people share legitimate and creative ideas.”

She also said every effort has been made to stay transparent and provide teachers any information they want.

“Our top priority is listening to our teachers and looking at the positive potential we’d have as a united organization of teachers,” she said. “I love my school site and I love where I work. I love my administrators. It’s not really about me, it’s about improving the decisions that are made district-wide.”

There is no deadline for a majority of teachers to sign up, but Caputo-Pearl said, “It is time sensitive because the more money the Alliance management pours into anti-union consulting firms and the more time spent creating an intimidating environment is the more time the students are going without the best services their teachers can provide.”

*Adds comments from Alex Caputo-Pearl


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