Are union supporters trying to intimidate administrators at Lusher Charter School?
That’s the question Lusher community members are asking after middle school principal Charlene Hebert’s car was vandalized outside her home in Algiers Point this week.
Hebert was about to leave for work on Thursday morning when she noticed her car windshield was shattered. A rock found next to the vehicle indicated that someone intentionally smashed it while Hebert was sleeping Wednesday night. Interestingly enough, no other cars on the block were vandalized and NOPD had not received reports of other property crimes in the area.
The timing of this incident, coming amidst the United Teachers of New Orleans’ (UTNO) contentious organizing effort at Lusher, has many wondering whether this was a random crime or an act of intimidation. After all, Lusher administrators have made it clear that they oppose the union and are willing to fight to preserve the school’s independence. Last Friday, Lusher’s administrative team sent a letter to staff that stated:
“In our opinion, introducing a union into Lusher will negatively affect direct communication of administration with teachers, add an additional layer of bureaucracy, and feed an adversarial tone that has not previously been part of the atmosphere at Lusher…This will inevitably change the positive relational chemistry between the administration and most faculty members that has proven so successful for our children.”
And earlier this week, attorneys for Lusher also formally challenged the National Labor Relations Board’s plan to hold a union election on May 17th, claiming the Board lacks the jurisdiction to do so.
To be clear, there is no evidence directly linking the crime to anyone involved with organizing at Lusher, but others who have tangled with the teachers unions in recent years have been subjected to similar threats.
After the Jefferson Parish School Board refused to renew their contract with Jefferson Federation of Teachers in 2012, angry union members threatened and intimidated members of the board’s pro-reform majority. In an email, former Jefferson Parish board member Pat Tovrea recounted his experience in the months following the contract vote:
“After we voted 5-4 not to recognize the union’s collective bargaining agreement, I was approached by my disabled child’s special needs teacher, paraprofessional, and many other unhappy union members. They harassed me and cursed me out so harshly, I could not believe these were the people that were responsible for my child’s well being and we did not feel comfortable sending him back to be in their care…[Union supporters] formed a human barricade and would not allow me to leave. JPSO deputies had to break it up and allow me to drive out of the lot…My home was also badly egged that same night and several other times as well. It eventually stopped after my neighbors put up some high tech CCTV cameras that covered the entire view of my front yard and house.”
In any case, the fact that anyone would even suspect that Hebert was intentionally targeted for opposing the union shows how divisive this issue has become. Unless the Lusher community takes a stand against UTNO’s aggressive attempt to impose its will on the school, things are likely to get worse in the weeks to come.