Teachers union starts legal battle to unionize L.A.’s largest charter school group

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By Thomas Himes, Los Angeles Daily News


United Teachers Los Angeles has brought its fight to unionize the city’s largest charter school organization to the state’s top labor authority.

In a complaint filed Monday evening, the teachers union alleges Alliance College-Ready Public Schools has interfered with efforts to unionize more than 500 teachers.

Los Angeles-based Alliance’s 26 campuses are located in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, south and east of downtown. Earlier this year, Los Angeles Unified’s school board approved Alliance plans to open a 27th campus in Sun Valley for 1,050 students in grades 6 through 12.

The teachers union wants California’s highest labor authority, the Public Employment Relations Board, to issue an order stopping Alliance officials from their alleged anti-union activities.

Elana Goldbaum, a 10th-grade history teacher at Alliance Gertz-Ressler High School, said Alliance’s leadership posted a negative statement about aggressive union efforts on a school website that students use to access assignments. The anti-union statement, Goldbaum said, disrupted learning at the high school.

“During class time teachers were being asked questions,” Goldbaum said. “It was not really a topic anyone felt comfortable discussing with students.”

Alliance spokeswoman Catherine Suitor denied wrong-doing. Alliance’s leadership, she said, was countering union claims with accurate information.

“It seems to me they want a one-sided conversation,” Suitor said. “But it’s our responsibility to put out facts so teachers can make informed decisions.”

UTLA’s efforts to organize Alliance started a few years ago, Suitor said. Then, last month, pro-union teachers surprised campus administrators with petitions and it’s been an “onslaught” ever since, she said.

Alliance’s teacher of the year, Kip Morales, said he doesn’t know one teacher at his campus who favors unionization. Morales, an 11th-grade English teacher at Alliance Patti & Peter Neuwirth Leadership Academy in South Los Angeles, said he was a member of UTLA seven years ago.

But after being one of the highest performing teachers at his LAUSD school, he was laid off because of union-supported policies that send pink slips to the newest teachers first in times of budget cuts.

At Alliance, Morales said, teachers this year will receive performance-based pay. The best educators, those with excellent evaluations and student improvement as judged by test scores, will receive more than $79,000 in just their second year of teaching. In 2014, Los Angeles Unified educators typically collected $75,504 with 16 years of experience.

UTLA has opposed performance-based pay and evaluations that assess teachers partly on the test scores of students.

“I’m not against a union, but I’m not for a union that’s going to divide us,” Morales said. “We’re successful, so why have a union that’s going to come in, divide our house and destroy it.”

UTLA efforts to unionize Alliance are part of a national strategy formed and supported in part by the American Federation of Teachers.

The plans have focused on Los Angeles, which has the highest concentration of unionized charter schools in the nation, and other cities including Chicago, New Orleans and Philadelphia.

“Charter schools were first envisioned as incubators for innovation and as venues that empowered teachers to improve education,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a written statement. “Instead, too many charter schools have become sites of waste and mismanagement and laboratories for tactics to intimidate and silence teachers and staff.”

Sam Taylor Jr., who teaches history at Alliance College-Ready Middle Academy 7, said he loves Alliance, but teachers need to unionize to make education better.

“We have no direct teacher voice in our curriculum, assessment or basically anything that goes on inside the classroom,” he said. “Yet we are the boots on the ground. We know best what our students need.”


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Reach the author at thomas.himes@langnews.com or follow Thomas on Twitter: @LADailyThomas.