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Clearing The Air Clarifying A Few Facts Ahead Of Lusher's Union Vote

On Tuesday, teachers at Lusher Charter School will officially vote on whether to form a union. Over the past couple weeks, they have been bombarded by advocates on both sides of the debate, so I won’t belabor the points I’ve already made. However, given all the accusations flying about recently, it’s important to clear the air about a few things…

I. Lusher’s board gave administrators permission to share their views

In an article in The Advocate last week, board president Blaine LeCesne, and board members Chunlin Leonhard and Carol Whelan lashed out at Lusher CEO Kathy Riedlinger and her administrative team for stating their opposition to the organizing effort, which they claimed violates the board’s neutrality resolution.

However, the neutrality resolution passed unanimously by the board on April 29th [see resolution below] explicitly gives Riedlinger and her administrative team the right to share their views in regard the union effort.

The third paragraph of the resolution states:

“WHEREAS the Board therefore authorizes the school administrators to share all information and views, permitted by law, that they deem necessary or appropriate for all Lusher teachers to make a sound and fully informed decision”

Board members included and approved this language with the full knowledge that Riedlinger and her fellow administrators opposed the union. Furthermore, while administrators have sent letters to teachers urging them to vote against the union effort, this is fully within the bounds of the law.

II. The only people violating the neutrality resolution are pro-union board members and teachers

Ironically, the only people violating the board’s neutrality are LeCesne, Leonhard, and Whelan, all three of whom initially voted to extend voluntary recognition to the union. Their statements to The Advocate last week were a clear signal of their support for the United Teachers of Lusher.

Moreover, on Tuesday, the Uptown Messenger published an op-ed written by board member Chunlin Leonhard entitled, “Ben Franklin teachers union provides strong model for Lusher,” in which she clearly states her support for the union.

Although Leonard appended a disclaimer at the bottom stating, “This letter represents her own opinions, not those of the Lusher board as a whole,” it is nevertheless a clear violation of the board’s resolution on neutrality.

From left: Blaine LeCesne, Chunlin Leonhard, Carol Whelan
From left: Blaine LeCesne, Chunlin Leonhard, Carol Whelan

Finally, as I noted in a previous post, several Lusher educators have reported that pro-union teachers organizing at the school have used coercive tactics in an attempt to secure their support for the union.

On April 25th, a teacher at Lusher filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the union with the National Labor Relations Board. In the complaint, the teacher described the tactics being used by union organizers:

“The teachers who have exercised their rights to refrain from participation in union activity have been harshly pressured, bullied, and forced to sign a union petition by the Union-Teacher-Agents. We have been shunned by the Union-Teacher-Agents. We have been lied-to and manipulated by the Union and Union-Teacher-Agents. We have been pulled out of our classes during instruction time with our students to answer questions of our very angry coworker Union-Teacher-Agents.”

III. There is a better way forward

The teachers union’s attempt to insert itself into the Lusher community has turned board members against the administration, teacher against teacher, and divided parents for and against. It’s transformed a once-collegial atmosphere into a stressful working environment. It’s taken a school that was thriving and turned things upside-down.

That’s not to say that all unions are bad or that those who support the organizing effort have malicious intentions. However, there are more productive and less divisive ways to address the concerns that led some staff members to push for a union.

A faculty senate or teacher advisory committee, for example, could bring pressing issues to the attention of board members and administrators. Staff members and administrators could come together to solve problems without needing to involve the American Federation of Teachers, an outside organization with its own agenda and the dues that go with it.

With the election a few days away, teachers at Lusher face a decision. If they vote for the union, the acrimony at the school is almost guaranteed to continue, as both sides face off as adversaries across a negotiating table. If they vote against it, they can begin to put the unpleasantness of recent weeks behind them and work together to make Lusher a better place.

Background on the union effort:

Meet Your Benevolent AFT Comrades

Quick Take: A Question of Vandalism

Lusher: Don’t Stand By While AFT Tears Apart Your School

AFT Is Lurking In The Shadows

Written by Peter Cook

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.


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    • That’s great – but just to be clear: Whether or not UTNO has changed, AFT has not changed and your dues are going to support anti-charter efforts all across the country. So there’s that :^(

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Meet Your Benevolent AFT Comrades

Does Lusher Need A Union?