An anti-union campaign reportedly being led by teachers and support staff at Bricolage Academy has been pushing back against an organizing effort as Friday’s union election date for the New Orleans charter school nears.
The union vote, meanwhile, comes against the backdrop of new leadership at the school. The school’s board of directors named an interim CEO at their meeting Tuesday night to take over for former leader Troave Profice, who abruptly left earlier this month for “personal reasons,” according to the nonprofit news site The Lens.
Antigua Wilbern, who had been serving as principal, will be interim CEO during the 2021-22 school year, the organization reported.
In recent weeks, pro- and anti-union parties have exchanged impassioned messages about the union vote being supervised by the National Labor Relations Board at the B-rated school, which serves about 700 students in pre-K through 8th grade on its Mid-City campus.
Teacher’s votes will be counted — paraprofessionals are excluded because they have a different industry grouping, according to BAE United, the group name for organizers hoping to formalize the union — and bosses, managers and supervisors are not legally allowed to be included in a bargaining group.
BAE United had been sharing messages in press releases and on social media since March, when they announced that they would team up with United Teachers of New Orleans to gain exposure.
The group tried to get the charter board to voluntarily recognize the union, but ended up scheduling a vote with NLRB when school leaders wouldn’t meet.
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Among other things, union members want to negotiate salary increases, job security, protection against retaliation or discrimination, and more generous paid time off and family leave policies.
“Low teacher retention rates are an issue that concerns me as an educator in New Orleans,” said Bricolage teacher Mary Rooney. “By standing together, we can elevate the teaching profession and build more sustainable and equitable working environments for our teachers.”
The effort has garnered support from UTNO, the Jefferson Federation of Teachers and the Louisiana Federation of Teachers and School Employees. BAE United organizers have said 80% of teachers are in support of collective bargaining.
But organizers said they’ve received “union busting propaganda” at their home addresses, signed “from Morris Jeff.” The letters warn that teachers have to give out personal information to the labor board to verify the union results, and that following unionization at Morris Jeff Community School, only certain people were given raises.
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Then, in mid-May, the group “Independent Bricolage NOLA” formed on Instagram. No one responded to messages, but the profile says it consists of school employees against unionization.
With the hashtag #voteno, the group says about 30 colleagues would be excluded from the proposed bargaining unit, including a large percentage of Black teachers, and that administrators are already open to collaboration without one.
John Palmer, a Bricolage special education teacher who is a member of Independent Bricolage NOLA, said he supports charter schools because of their accountability and the autonomy they afford, including with hiring and firing decisions.
“I think our best days are ahead of us,” he said of Bricolage. “And I think our best days are ahead of us without a union.”
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At the board meeting on Tuesday, more than 70 people showed up and several spoke in favor of the union, The Lens reported. But Yvette Jones, the board chair, said the “the vote on this matter is now with the teachers — not with the board.”