Move to unionize at Philly charter school blocked, teachers say

Claims that the company running the Olney Charter High School tried to intimidate teachers who sought to unionize may be heading for a hearing.

Hanako Franz teaches ninth-grade history at Olney Charter High School, which became an non-unionized charter run by Aspira in 2011 — Franz’s first year of teaching.

Over the next two years, Franz says, the administration made many decisions — some she says to the detriment of children’s education — without consulting with the teaching staff.

From there came the idea to form a union.

“We do want to have a legal right to a voice at our school and we want to be a part of decisions that get made,” Franz said. “We understand that changes sometimes have to happen and change isn’t always bad, but we just want to be a part of that process.”

Like all teachers at Olney, Franz is employed on an “at-will” basis, without due process protections for being fired.

Organizers say the creation of a union would provide them with the job security and peace-of-mind needed to undertake long-term projects. They also hope a union would help them negotiate with the administration a concrete list of professional expectations on either side.

But as organizers attempted to increase their ranks, they say Aspira administrators unjustly attempted to squash their efforts. Eventually, organizers teamed with The Alliance of Charter School Employees — associated with the American Federation of Teachers — to bring a lawsuit against Aspira.

In a report released this week, the National Labor Relations Board found credence with the organizers’ complaints and outlined how Olney’s principal, Dr. Jose E. Lebron, and assistant principals Bridget Bujak and Lisette Agosto Cintron “interrogated” and “threatened” union hopefuls.

What’s more, the Philadelphia Daily News learned that Aspira has spent more than $17,094 in public funds to represent its interests in the case.

“In the state of education with these cuts and everything like that, we can’t afford to have any fund to go outside of our school that’s not going to our students, that’s not going toward field trips, or paper or resources for the writing center or just anything our students need,” said 11th-grade English teacher Drew Harris.

Aspira officials did not return requests for comment.

Unless Aspira yields to the teachers’ efforts, a hearing will be held by the Labor Relations Board on Oct. 15.

Below is the National Labor Relations Board document that found merit with the union organizers’ complaints:

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ASPIRA ULP Complaint (PDF)

ASPIRA ULP Complaint (Text)

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