May 21, 2010 Volume 111 Number 10

Five complaints filed against Portland French School

At a private school in Southwest Portland, pro-union teachers and support staff encountered a management backlash when they sought to join American Federation of Teachers (AFT)-Oregon.

Portland French School principal Elimane Mbengue told one teacher he would not renew her H-1B visa because of her support for the union, and told another she would not have her teaching contract renewed — according to allegations in five separate unfair labor practice charges filed by AFT-Oregon with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

To combat the union campaign, the school hired attorney Nelson Atkin, and held several workplace anti-union meetings. At one meeting, a board member at the non-profit school pleaded with teachers not to unionize, and then resigned. Parents were invited to campaign against the union.

AFT countered with a letter of support from a French teachers union, and gathered over 300 signatures on an electronic petition protesting the employer anti-union campaign.

The school, at 6318 SW Corbett, is a French language immersion academy that runs pre-K through middle school and is certified by the French educational ministry.

A union election was held April 16, but the results won’t be known until the NLRB rules on three challenged ballots. Two separate tallies were taken: In the first, 26 teachers vote whether they want to be in the same bargaining unit with about 11 support staff; the second determines whether either or both groups want union representation. The first tally was 10-12 against a combined bargaining unit, but three of those ballots were challenged.

A hearing is set for May 27-28, and AFT-Oregon Executive Director Richard Schwarz said he hopes to know the results by mid-June.

“We believe the board will find merit to the unfair labor practice charges and issue complaints,” Schwarz told the Labor Press.