Portland French School broke law to fight union


The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) says Portland French School committed multiple violations of U.S. labor law in its fight against a unionizing campaign by employees.

Portland French School, at 6318 Southwest Corbett Avenue, is a private school offering French language immersion from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. Earlier this year, teachers and other employees announced their intention to join American Federation of Teachers (AFT)-Oregon. On March 8, they turned in a petition signed by most of the staff asking management to recognize the union.

The next day, school head Elimane Mbengue told the school’s immigration attorney to stop work on a work visa renewal for teacher Patricia Raclot, a leader of the effort. Raclot is a French citizen.

In the weeks that followed, Mbengue and several of the school board members told workers that unionizing would stigmatize the school, scare away parents, and lead to closure of the school.

Workers were asked what their complaints were about the school, and promised those grievances would be resolved without the need for a union.

Engaging employees in the lobby, Mbengue asked them to bring complaints to him directly, and threatened swift and severe discipline and discharges. The school introduced an unlawful “no complaining” rule against staff sharing frustrations with each other about the job. And it enforced other rules selectively only against union supporters.

On March 22, Mbengue told staff that he had the “biggest card to play” in a union campaign, and that all of the employees were smart enough to know what that means. The next day, Raclot was informed her teaching contract would not be renewed for the 2010-11 school year.

All this conduct, illegal under federal labor law, had tremendous effect on the organizing campaign, said AFT-Oregon organizer Eben Pullman.

“We went from having a substantial majority of 70 percent when we filed cards,” Pullman said, “to having employees withdraw support after promises were made by management.”

In a union election held April 16, support staff voted 7 to 3 to unionize, but teachers were split 12 to 12. AFT-Oregon is challenging the outcome, however. The NLRB could order a re-run of the election if it determines that employer law-breaking contributed to the union losing majority support.

A federal administrative law judge will hear the case beginning Oct. 19 in Portland.

Thus far, Portland French School, represented by the employer-side labor law firm Barran Liebman, has refused to reinstate Raclot. Because her contract was cancelled, her visa has expired, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement is not pursuing deportation proceedings, in accord with an inter-agency agreement with the NLRB. The NLRB maintains Raclot was terminated because she’s a union supporter.


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