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First Teachers Union in Post-Katrina New Orleans Inks Contract

Three years after they formed the first teachers' union in post-Katrina New Orleans, teachers at the Morris Jeff Community School have secured their first contract. The three-year deal entitles teachers to increased job security, additional supports to improve their craft, and more of a say in setting school discipline and special education policy.  The Times Picayune reports that both the teachers and governing board unanimously ratified the contract.

"This contract at Morris Jeff shows how innovative and supportive union contracts can be," said Larry Carter, president of the United Teachers of New Orleans, in a statement. "A contract like this is good for teachers, students, and the community, leading to an atmosphere of support and collaboration that schools need to thrive. The student support committee is an especially encouraging piece of this agreement, which has the potential to do wonders for the school and the students."

Morris Jeff teachers are members of the United Teachers of New Orleans, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, which lost its power and influence after all city public school teachers were fired in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Though Morris Jeff was the first to unionize in 2013, Ben Franklin Academy became the first New Orleans school with a union contract in over a decade last year.

The fight over the appropriate role of unionized labor in New Orleans public schools, nearly all of which are charter schools, remains far from settled. While Morris Jeff, a politically progressive school that was founded as a bit of an antithesis to the "no-excuses" charters that had come to dominate the city in the years after the storm, didn't put up a fight when teachers notified the board of their intentions to form a union, elsewhere in the city the battles have been fierce. Just this summer, teachers at one school voted down a union, while educators at another charter unionized. The National Labor Relations Board supervised both votes.

AFT President Randi Weingarten said that the Morris Jeff contract is part of a wave of unionization at charter schools around the country.

"The innovative contract at Morris Jeff is an important step forward for the entire school community and a great example of how charter educators across the country are using the bargaining process to raise their collective voice to create better schools that benefit students and educators," said Weingarten, in a statement.

AFT currently counts teachers at 228 charter schools in 15 states as members.

The deal also includes teaching assistants and select support staff. It doesn't cover administrators, instructional coaches, security guards, or clerical workers. While teachers won't see a raise, the salary schedule sets pay for new teachers at $46,000 and tops out at $68,000 for teachers with at least 35 years of experience, teaching assistants will see a 5 percent pay bump. Additionally the contract establishes a grievance process, teachers must first go to their supervisor, then the principal, then on to the charter's governing board, and if still unresolved to arbitration. 

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