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State labor board issues complaint in charter school unionization effort

State labor board issues complaint in charter school unionization effort
UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl speaks to supporters in 2014. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

California's labor oversight board has issued a complaint alleging that the largest charter school organization in Los Angeles interfered with the right of its teachers to unionize.

The complaint filed by attorneys with the Public Employment Relations Board alleges that charter school leaders violated state laws by denying pro-union organizers access to school buildings after work hours, distributing documents that criticized unionization efforts and blocking emails to employees.

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Alliance College-Ready Public Schools and United Teachers Los Angeles, which is working with a group of educators, have been locked in a battle over efforts to unionize teachers at the charter organization.

The labor board will try to mediate a settlement between the groups on Aug. 21. If an agreement is not reached, a formal hearing will be set before an administrative law judge.

Alliance teachers Elana Goldbaum and Oliver Aguirre said the labor board complaint reaffirms the right of teachers to organize at the campus without fear of reprisal.

"There is definitely an element of hope for me and other teachers as well that we can get a fair and neutral process so we can just have an open conversation," Goldbaum said.

The teachers union filed charges with the state labor board in April accusing the charter organization of launching an anti-union campaign that violated state laws. By issuing a complaint, the labor board determined that the union provided enough information to merit a hearing.

Alliance leaders said they are not interfering with employees' rights to unionize, but they will continue to share "facts, opinions and experiences" about efforts to organize teachers. Spokeswoman Catherine Suitor said the charter group has done nothing wrong and is prepared to defend itself.

"We believe our teachers have the right to decide if they want to form a union and our teachers are speaking freely," Suitor said. "Everything that we've done, we've checked with legal counsel because we don't want to do anything that's out of the scope of the law."

In March, nearly 70 teachers and counselors at Alliance sent a letter to school leaders, explaining their intention to partner with UTLA to form a union. Unionizing would require majority support from educators at Alliance schools.

The outcome of the drive to unionize Alliance could alter the path of school reform in the state, which has an increasing number of publicly funded but privately managed charter schools. Those campuses have traditionally operated without collective bargaining agreements with teachers.

United Teachers Los Angeles represents educators at several charter schools that are not related to Alliance. The union announced that teachers at four of those charter schools have reached contract agreements through collective bargaining.

Twitter: @zahiratorres

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