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Calif. Charter Network Can't Block Union Organizers, Emails, Judge Rules

California's labor-relations board for public employees issued a mixed ruling on whether a major California charter management organization illegally tried to quash a unionization drive at its schools.

The battle over unionization at the 27-campus Alliance College-Ready Public Schools has been ongoing for more than a year, ever since teachers submitted a "mission statement" outlining their intent to unionize last March. 

A few months later, the Los Angeles teachers' union filed several complaints with the California Public Employment Relations Board alleging that Alliance officials were intimidating teachers and parents. Alliance officials, for their part, acknowledged resisting unionization, though they say their activities have been within the law. A judge granted a temporary restraining order against the CMO last fall.

Judge Kent Morizawa ruled June 3 that Alliance officials impermissibly blocked union organizers from schools, and interfered in the drive by redirecting emails from United Teachers Los Angeles into teachers' "spam" folders. And in one instance, the PERB ruled, an Alliance employee talked about a teacher's evaluation and employment status in a conversation about the teacher's support for United Teachers Los Angeles.  

"A reasonable employee would conclude that removing her name from the mission statement would generate a more favorable score on the formal evaluation," Morizawa wrote.

But the ruling sided with the Alliance on other matters. For instance, the PERB ruled that many of the Alliance's other communications to teachers and parents—including statements suggesting that unionization would result in a loss of flexibility and autonomy at the schools—were not coercive or threatening.

The ruling directs Alliance not to interfere with UTLA's right to access and employees' rights to be represented to UTLA.

Much of this battle has been fought via public relations, and both the UTLA and the Alliance put out statements playing up their respective wins. The Alliance also noted that the administrator who spoke about teacher evaluations no longer works for the group.

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