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Perry Nursery School Accused Of Union Busting

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ANN ARBOR- The Board of Directors (BOD) of Perry Nursery School is engaging in unfair labor practices, including possible union-busting, according to charges filed in May with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) by the union representing Perry staff workers. District 65, an affiliate of the United Auto Workers (UAW), is accusing Peny's BOD of laying off three workers in April "because of their union activities," not because of economie limitations, as the BOD claims. Perry Nursery School, located at 1541 Washtenaw, describes itself as "a non-profit, Washtenaw United Way agency for children, ages 2-12 to 6 years of age, frorn single-parent families in which the parent works or studies full-time. Tuition from parents, as well as a monthly contribution from The Thrift Shop and from interested community members, combines with the United Way allocation to complete Peny's funding arrangements." The staff of Perry decided to unionize last November in an attempt to more effectively address Peny's financial problems, as well as to address the issue of child-to-teacher ratios, administrative mismanagement, and lack of fundraising. "Working as a pTe-school teacher is very stressful work and the wages are very low," according to Peny's union steward Chuck Gattone. "This leads to poor teacher performance. The union is a way of improving conditions for both teachers and kids." District 65 claims that in the states in which it has organized child care centers, it "has been instrumental in pushing through legislation designed to improve the quality of child care and increase funding." Peny's BOD at firstrefused to officially recognize the union. A grievance filed in March with the NLRB by District 65 was subsequently dropped when the administration's lawyer, Len Mazor, and the union lawyer made an agreement to drop charges in exchange for a union election to be held by a mutually acceptable third party. Elections were held March 27 and the union was voted in, 1 1 to 8. On April 6, anegotiating session was held at which the staff read their 25-page proposal for desired changes to the management. The proposal included: guaranteed jobs, wages, and benefits; more staff representation on the BOD; more money for Perry (through the UAW and lobbying); guaranteed better teacher-student ratio; pay raises and benefits in accordance with seniority; and staff input in hiring new staff. The date for the next negotiating session was set for April 25 but was subsequently cancelled and rescheduled by the BOD for May 10. On April 22, Liz Gottlieb (a UAW organizer and former Perry teacher) received a letter from Mazor notifying her of the planned layoffs of three Perry staff members, effective April 28. (seo PERRY, pago 11) PCDDV I La II il I (f rom page ene) The laid-off teachers had been working for various lenglhs of lime, and Iwo had seniority over .severa] olher teachers. One factor that all three had ín common was their support for the union. On April 25 and April 27, negotiations were held regarding the layoffs. At the first meeting the union representativespresented several proposals. At the second meeting the management rejectedeachof the union's proposals. They decidcd to go ahead with the layoffs the following day. They would givc each laid-off teacher two weeks pay and job recall rights. "Duc lo economie limitations for Perry and over-staffing, il is necessary at this time to lay off parttime staff as of April 28, 1 989," said William Oliver (Pcrry 's current BOD President) in an April 27 memo sent lo Perry administraron, sludcnLs' parcnLs, and slaff. "The tcacherchild ratio for Perry will be al one teacher lo six childrcn. The state of Michigan mándales a one teacher to 10 children ratio, so we are wcll within the given guidclincs. . ."Oliver furtherclaimed ihat the BOD was "mandatcd by United Way to reduce our slaffing costs ralher than ask for more funds lo maimain our over-staffing situalion." When asked if the United Way had indeed mandatcd staff rcduclions, Edward Marsh, Manager of Agency Relations for United Way, denied it. "We just informed Perry Nursery that that statement is in error," he said. "The Board of Dircctors of Perry runs the agency (Perry Nursery). The United Way does not díctate to its agencies." He ihcn addcd, "We have notified Perry of our support of the right of its employees to engage in collective bargaining." Gattone also responded to Olivcr's memo of April 27. In a memo to Pcrry parents, adminislrative pcrsonncl and staff, hc assertcd, "... wc must correct Bill Oliver on the child to teacher ratio, which is the most important issue. Pcrry will have a total of three teachers assigned to cach room, bul there will usually be only one or iwo teachers in a room at any one time. At many points in the day there will be only one teacher in the room, with as many as 18 children. This ratio is in clear violalion of Michigan state law." According to Gattone, PeiTy teachers work in shifts, which, at times, results in an illegal teacher to child ratio. Gattone and Deb Rosenberg (anotherof the laid-off teachers) both believe that their layoffs were due to reasons olhcr than economics. "1 think that a lol of it has to do wilh the facl that I supported Ihe union," staled Rosenberg. Gattone concurTcd, "I believe the layoffs were in retaliation for unionization. There are teachers who thcy retaincd who have less seniority than teachers they laid off, bul those teachers are anli-union. Bccause of this they refused loconsider any olher option." On April 27, from 5 pm to 6 pm, a rally in support of the laid-off teachers was held in front of Perry. Approximatcly 60 people including students' parenLs, teachers, and community members altendcd. A petilion supporting a financial solulion for Peny olher than layoffs was signed by 25 parents. (n May 6 ihe union filed charges wilh ihe National Labor Relations Board for the second time. The charges against Perry includcd: laying off employees because of union adivines, re fus al to bargain in good failh regarding ihose layoffs, failure lo provide rcqueslcd budget informalion to Ihe unión, re fus al lo allow employees to have union representation during ihcir disciplinary interviews, threats to employees regarding union adivines, and discrimínale cnforccmenl of certain rules, policics, and use of facilities. Regarding the layoffs, the charge rcad: 'The employer is well aware of ihe three employees ' supporl for the union. . .The personncl policics of ihe school, which slale that in the case of release an employee is to be nolificd 30 days in advancc, were violated in the course of ihe layoffs. The employees were given no notice." Golllicb cxplained ihal the union's ings of charges was a "necessary move" that resulled from being backed into a corner. She went on to say that the union wants to help Perry through its financia] crisis and to help teachers at the same time. The union members would much rather see all sides cooperaling, rather than fighting and that hopefully thiscan start happening soon, she added. Mazor, representing Perry, responded to the charges as follows: "I think the school's position will be vindica led. I don' t think we've done anything illegal. We've had lo make changos for economie reasons." At press time, the negolialions are continuing. Since the layoffs, two full-timc teachers have lefl. On May 16, a classified ad for a teacher at Perry appeared in The Ann ArborNews. On May 17,Gattonewas offered one of the two vacated posilions. Goltlieb is hopeful that progress toward a resolution is bcing made. "At first they (the management) needed to gel used to working wilh the union. Butnow, hopefully, they 're starting to realize that we can work together for a contract thal's to everyone's benefit," statcd Golllieb. The management also expresses a positive sentiment. 'There's a lol of progress being made toward reaching a colleclive bargaining agrecmenu" concluded Mazor. The NLRB enf orces the federal National Labor Relations Act. As such, ihey seck to return silualions lo what "they would have been had the charged party not violated the act," according to an NLRB slaff person. If the Perry management is found to bc engaged in unfair labor practices, they could be ordered to reinslate the laid-of f employees with back pay, ordered to bargain wilh the union, ordered to furnish requested information, and ordered to cease and desist harassing activities. Perry could then appcal any of the NLRB 's rulings in circuit court - the decisión could go as high as the Supreme Court on appeal. The NLRB must obtain any orders or injunctions in federal district court.