June 2012 Issue
May 23, 2012

Hard-fought victories for charter school teachers

Author: Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: From left, Christine Celli-Hernandez, Barbara Coogan and Jillian Haag endured harassment and firings for organizing charter school employees. RA delegates passed a resolution condemning the union-busting campaigns by Victory Schools, Inc., a charter school management company. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

Barbara Coogan, union leader at Buffalo United Charter School, suffered such anti-union harassment she had to take a break from her job.

Christine Celli-Hernandez was one of many union organizers fired two years ago by Merrick Academy in New York City.

Jillian Haag was fired late in her pregnancy while serving on the organizing committee at Evergreen Charter School in Nassau County. With NYSUT's help, the teachers have prevailed, but their battles for a stress-free workplace continue.

Their bravery was acknowledged by nearly 2,000 delegates who gathered in Buffalo in late April for NYSUT's 40th annual Representative Assembly. The recognition came just days after an important court victory for labor.

Clearing the way for teachers to unionize at the Buffalo United Charter School, managed by the for-profit National Heritage Academy, Erie County Supreme Court Judge John Curran on April 24 affirmed that charter school teachers are public employees under the Taylor Law and the state Public Employment Relations Board has jurisdiction over employees' unionization efforts. The employees were to sign union authorization cards for a fourth time, expressing their will to form a union and be represented by NYSUT.

"It is my honor and privilege to present these three brave women to you as leaders in our continuing struggle to be treated in a professional, respectful manner,” NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi. We should all "be inspired by the examples of these union activists to resist an attempt by any employer to take away or diminish these rights"

Coogan's employer eventually settled a workers' compensation claim. NYSUT also helped her file an improper practice charge through PERB. Coogan has returned to work but still faces harassment.

Celli-Hernandez received help from the United Federation of Teachers and NYSUT's Legal Department when all the union activists were terminated by the employer. PERB directed the Merrick Academy to reinstate any of the fired teachers who wished to return to their jobs. Celli-Hernandez returned and became chapter leader. She is fighting for implementation of the union's first collective bargaining agreement.

Haag sought help from NYSUT to file an improper practice charge against Evergreen. She gave birth to a daughter three days after her firing, and is awaiting PERB's decision. After protests by parents and colleagues, Evergreen has recognized the union, and a first contract is under negotiation.