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UTNO Proposes, But Board May Dispose

The United Teachers of New Orleans still lives. And it's trying to take baby steps toward a comeback. But can it?

According to this story in the Times Picayune, the UTNO, which was all but destroyed during the reorganization of New Orleans schools after Hurricane Katrina, has proposed a collective bargaining contract in the five schools that are still under school board control.

Very few details of the proposed three-year contract are available, such as that it does not include raises for teachers in the first year, but does include $500 bonuses for national-board- certified teachers.

But here's the hitch: Four of five freshly elected board members want the contract delayed until they arrive on board in January. Apparently they are against such a contract because of the district's current financial state. And since they would make up a majority on the seven-member board, any chances that the contract would survive seem slim to none.

The historic union, the first in the deep South to win collective bargaining in 1974, has so far managed to stay afloat with considerable financial help from its parent, the American Federation of Teachers. It also helped that former AFT secretary-treasurer, Nat LaCour, was emotionally invested in UTNO, which he led several years ago.

But the struggle has been long and hard. Although its membership dropped to just a couple of hundred immediately after Katrina, it has since increased to about 1,500. Still, it remains well below the 5,000 members it boasted pre-Katrina. It hasn't helped at all that many who now hold the strings of the city's education system see the union as a hindrance above everything else.

The UTNO will likely survive, even if this contract falls through. But a union without collective bargaining rights is, well, a tiger with paper teeth. Or an "association."

I, for one, don't see the once fiery union being happy with that designation, especially given its history. But does it have any options left?

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