01/27/2012

New York Charter School Teachers Form a New Union

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Teachers at the Evergreen Charter School in Hempstead, N.Y., have won the right to organize and affiliate with the New York State United Teachers, but only after a bitter fight that included the illegal firing of a pregnant special education teacher for her work organizing the union.

Evergreen's board of education was forced to voluntarily recognize the teachers' desire to affiliate with NYSUT in late December, after 16 of school's 20 teachers signed cards in support for forming a union. In addition, more than 65 parents signed a petition supporting formation of the union, the Evergreen Charter School Staff Association.

Jill Haag photo by Miller Photography.

Despite the successful organizing campaign, the union's work continues. NYSUT argues that Evergreen Charter School administrators illegally fired special education teacher Jill Haag (pictured at left)—then 8 1/2 months pregnant—on Dec. 2 for her work organizing the union. Haag regularly wore a lanyard stating, "Unions and Charters Working Together," and urged parents to sign the petition in support of the union.

More than 200 teachers and parents rallied in support of Haag—and the union—at Evergreen's board meeting on Jan. 25. Parent supporters held signs that said, "Hire Jill back," and "Union Contract =Job Security=Security for Our Children." The teachers, including Haag, left the school together to a cheering crowd. 

NYSUT has filed improper practice charges with the state Public Employment Relations Board seeking to have Haag reinstated. The charges note that school principal Maritza Meyers had warned Haag to tone down her public support for the union. Board president Gil Bernardino had instructed a school custodian to spy on Haag and report his findings. Surveillance cameras also were installed in the ceiling of Haag's classroom.

"That was so upsetting, I'll never forget it," Haag says. "What really got me was that it was such a tremendous waste of money. I remember thinking: 'We have these children with all these needs. That money could have gone elsewhere.'"

On Nov. 29, Haag was presented with a letter of discipline claiming she had been late to a class, was out of compliance with the development of individualized educational plans for students, and had scheduling management problems. She refused to sign the letter and had kept her own paperwork to prove the charges of the student IEP compliance charges were inaccurate. She also noted that the letter made no mention of her union activities.

"It was just a cover so that they could keep a paper trail on me," she says. Haag's termination came just four days before she gave birth to her daughter. [NYSUT news release, Trudy Rudnick/photo by Miller Photography]

January 27, 2012