UTLA files an unfair practice complaint
Union says Alliance charter managers are interfering with efforts to organize teachers.
Nearly a month after launching a campaign to unionize the largest charter group in Los Angeles, some teachers are accusing school leaders of violating state laws that allow educators to organize without fear of reprisal.
United Teachers Los Angeles, which is working with educators at Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, filed an unfair practice charge with the state this week, alleging that charter school leaders have started an anti-union campaign, blocked emails to employees and denied organizers access to school buildings after work hours.
The outcome of the drive to unionize Alliance could alter the path of school reform in the state, where publicly funded but privately managed charter schools have boomed. Those campuses have operated without collective bargaining agreements with teachers.
“This issue has always been one of educators attempting to form a union to advocate for their students, advocate for their profession and advocate for sustainability in their schools,” UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said. “It has been disappointing that the Alliance management has broken the law, which we’re going to show. And, that the Alliance management has been using what latitude there unfortunately is within the law to intimidate folks during work time.”
Alliance spokeswoman Catherine Suitor said the charter group is not interfering with employees’ right to unionize, but staff members will 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,” Suitor said in an email.
Nearly 70 teachers and counselors at Alliance sent a letter last month to school leaders, explaining their intention to form a union. Unionizing would require majority support from educators at Alliance schools.
Alliance leaders said they would not interfere with educators’ rights to decide whether to organize.
The weeks that followed saw a flurry of activity.
Teachers who believe organizing will give educators a greater voice in decisions that affect teaching set up a website, sent emails and planned meetings on unionizing. They listed among their priorities: teacher retention, class size, budget transparency, due process rights and fair evaluations and compensation.
Charter leaders set up their own website, which features teachers who oppose unionizing, and sent emails to educators, including one from Alliance President and Chief Executive Dan Katzir asking for a “fair opportunity” to prove the organization’s commitment to employees before they made any decisions.
Alliance also sent a letter to parents about the efforts that the charter group said had “the potential to significantly impact the independence and flexibility that have historically been hallmarks of our success.”
Sam Taylor Jr., a teacher interested in a union, said he was encouraged by the initial response of administrators but emails sent to teachers and parents since then have left some employees fearing for their jobs.
“The fact that they are pushing that environment — where people feel uncomfortable making a decision that they have a legal right to make — speaks volumes about the choices that they are making and it stands in stark contrast to what they said on that first day,” Taylor said.
Tina Wyatt is among those who oppose unionization. The 16-year teacher, who has been at Alliance for four years, said she does not believe the issues raised by her colleagues are a problem at the 11,000-student charter organization.
Wyatt said the emails and letters from Alliance offered information to employees that they were not getting from teachers who support unionization.
“I’ve heard teachers say this will give us a voice,” Wyatt said. “We have a voice. I went to one of the meetings where they talked about unionizing. I never got a straight answer on anything. I felt like I was talking to a used car salesman.”
In its unfair practice allegation against Alliance, the union points to provisions in the law that say employee organizations have the right to represent their members in their employment relations with public school districts and that they have the right to communicate with employees and “use institutional facilities at reasonable times for the purpose of meetings concerned with the exercise of the rights.”
UTLA alleges that the charter management organization violated the law by twice denying union organizers access to school facilities and by blocking correspondence sent to employees’ work emails.
The union asks the Public Employment Relations Board for remedies that include making the charter group “acknowledge in writing its responsibility to maintain an environment free of threats of reprisal or retaliation for actions that occur within the venue and scope of representation.”
The complaint, filed Tuesday, also seeks an order requiring the charter to stop interfering with employees and the union, refrain from coercing employees and denying their access to facilities and email accounts.
FRANKLIN High teacher Joseph Nguyen joins colleagues to press contract demands in February.