JUST IN: Judge issues restraining order against Alliance in union battle
Craig Clough | October 30, 2015
A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order against Alliance College-Ready Public Schools late yesterday, ordering its administration to cease stifling a unionization effort.
The LA teachers union, UTLA, is currently attempting to unionize the teachers at the charter school organization, which is LA Unified’s largest with 27 schools and around 700 teachers who are currently not represented by any union. Alliance has attempted to discourage the effort in ways that both UTLA and the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) claimed were illegal.
“It’s very rare for the courts to find it necessary to issue a TRO to protect teachers from abusive behavior by charter school managers,” UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said in a statement. “Alliance employs hard-working, dedicated educators who only want to improve their schools and advocate for their students. Instead of respecting their rights and treating them as professionals and valued employees, they’ve faced an onslaught of unfair and illegal actions. This behavior would be wrong in any workplace but is totally unacceptable in a publicly funded school setting.”
The temporary restraining order request to the court came last week from PERB, which had ruled in favor of UTLA’s complaints and filed a formal complaint in state court in August. A hearing had been set for Nov. 2 before an administrative law judge regarding the complaint. PERB’s arguments for a TRO and injunctive relief were outlined in a letter to a lawyer representing UTLA.
The restraining order issued yesterday by Judge James C. Chalfant placed new rules and restriction on Alliance administrators, including:
- Alliance “must not” ask employees about their “beliefs, views or intentions regarding unionization.”
- Stay 100 feet from a conversation between union representatives and teachers.
- Refrain from efforts to “coerce or threaten to impose reprisals against certified employees.”
- Allow UTLA representatives access to schools sites after-hours.
- Cease efforts to “block or deny UTLA electronic email messages to certified employees work email addresses.”
- Provide every certified employee with a copy of the TRO.
The administration of Alliance has been vocal about opposing the unionization attempt by UTLA but has maintained that its activities are legal and simply an information campaign to educate its teachers. In a statement that echoed past ones, Alliance said it will respect the court’s ruling but that it was essentially based on misinformation provided to PERB and the court by UTLA.
“We remain disheartened by the divisive, dishonest, and disruptive tactics used by UTLA that, to date, have put adult interest above those of our students,” the statement read. “One piece of alleged ‘evidence’ included in the union’s legal claim is the absurd suggestion that school leaders standing in front of their schools at the end of the school day supervising students as they left the campus constitutes ‘surveillance’ because a union organizer stood across the street and was in direct line of sight of school administrators who are overseeing student safety at the end of the school day.”
One of the PERB complaints — that Alliance had retaliated against a teacher, Albert Chu, and fired him for union activity — was stricken from the TRO because the judge found the complaint to be a separate issue and more appropriate for a lawsuit. Alliance denied the claim, anyway.
“This failed claim is an attack on the integrity of Alliance leadership,” the Alliance statement read. “No one at Alliance has or would ever make a personnel decision based on a teacher’s views on unionization. In fact, many UTLA petition signers have been offered (and taken on) leadership positions and stipend-earning career ladder opportunities in their schools and across Alliance.”
Catherine Suitor, a spokesperson for Alliance, said despite the ruling, “very little has changed” because the accusations are false. She said the only real change is that UTLA representatives will now be allowed access to school sites after hours.
“We do not coerce employees, and we never would,” she said, adding that Alliance agrees with the judge that no one should coerce or retaliate against employees.
Suitor also denied that Alliance had blocked UTLA emails.
“Teachers have discussed freely, including through email their opinions about unionization,” she said.
Suitor also said that during a hearing, the judge denied UTLA and PERB’s request to bar Alliance from “disseminating communications” about UTLA, which Alliance is painting as an attempt by UTLA to infringe on the organization’s first amendment rights.
After the request for a TRO was issued last week, Suitor said UTLA has failed to gain the support of a majority of its teachers and was engaging in delay tactics in court to buy more time, and today’s statement repeated the claim. She also suggested that PERB was biased against Alliance because a majority of the PERB board has pro-union backgrounds.
All the parties involved were ordered by the judge to appear in court on Nov. 17 to argue why a preliminary injunction of 90 days should not be issued.
UPDATED to show the TRO stated that Alliance “must not” ask employees about their beliefs, it did not say Alliance must “stop” asking.