schools

Bricolage Academy educators vote to form a union

Bricolage Academy, 2426 Esplanade Ave. (Jesse Baum, Mid-City Messenger)

By Jesse Baum, Mid-City Messenger

Bricolage Academy Educators United (BAE) voted Friday to form a union with the United Teachers of New Orleans. The final tally was 42 yes, 18 no, with 8 contested ballots.

The election was overseen by the National Labor Relations Board after Bricolage’s school board declined to recognize a petition to unionize that was signed by eighty percent of eligible staff.

At a rally at the teacher-friendly hour of 7 a.m., scores of supporters as well as the teachers themselves gathered in front of Pagoda Cafe on Bayou Road to generate excitement for the vote.

Wanda Richard speaks at Bricolage rally on Friday. (Jesse Baum, MId-City Messenger)

Voting began around 7:30 a.m. and the results were announced less than four hours later.

“We’ve had so many people from other schools all across the city, state and country reach out to voice their support,” Bricolage teacher Justin Smith told Mid-City Messenger. “I’ve loved hearing from other educators in New Orleans who are watching us run our campaign.”

The union drive has stretched over two years from its inception.

“While we hoped our board would voluntarily recognize our union, going to an election with the NLRB has made our union stronger and more united,”  Smith said. “We have had to build deeper and more trusting relationships with each other to overcome anti-union tactics intended to confuse and divide. It’s not the path we would have chosen, but it’s forced us to come together in a way we didn’t anticipate.”

First-grade teacher Emily Alverson addresses the rally.

Emily Alverson, a first-grade teacher and one of the lead organizers, thanked the assembled crowd who stood blinking in the sun.

“We are so excited to celebrate our election with you,” she said. She praised her fellow educators for “talking one on one… taking risks together and dreaming of what’s possible when workers are empowered.”

State Rep. Royce Duplessis, UTNO president Wanda Richard, Louisiana Federation of Teachers president Larry Carter, Jefferson Federation of Teachers president Kesler Camese-Jones and JFT members all attended the rally Friday morning with parents, students and other supporters.

“We support you one hundred percent,” said LFT’s Larry Carter. “Teachers have pushed and pushed. I look forward to a ‘yes’ vote today.”

The teachers who advocated for the union and worked to organize their colleagues say that gaining a contract and collective bargaining agreement with the school will allow educators more of a voice in how the school is run, and will elevate the classroom experience at Bricolage as well as attract talented teachers to the Esplanade Avenue school.

Rep. Royce Duplessis at the rally Friday

Alverson said that the job security that a contract provides will also help prevent teachers from being overworked and burning out.

Jacqui Gibson-Clark, parent of a Bricolage fourth-grader, told the Messenger “As a parent I have been excited to see the teachers at Bricolage form a union. Ultimately, I feel like the Bricolage school community is committed to teaching and practicing equity.

“It seems like an easy get that empowering workers with collective bargaining power is squarely aligned with our community values,” Gibson-Clark continued. “I trust that these teachers want the best for our kids and our school community. Why would we not want the same for them? What kind of a community would we be if we did not support or trust the people who we trust with our kids.”

Though a supermajority of educators signed a petition in favor of forming a union in February 2021, which they presented to the Bricolage board, the board did not voluntarily recognize their union. In a March meeting attended by many members of the public as well as parents and teachers, the board allowed five minutes of comments in favor of the union and five against. They then went into executive session for over an hour before ending the meeting.

Since then, the board has met one other time, on Tuesday (May 25) via Zoom. The school’s leadership has also experienced an abrupt change — Troavé Profice, the Bricolage CEO, has stepped down after announcing a leave of absence in the last weeks of the school year. Antigua Wilbern is currently serving as interim CEO.

“I can’t say enough good things about Ms. Willburn. I am so proud that we have her as a school leader,” Gibson-Clark said. “I really admired Ms. Profice and I am extremely sad to see her go. I do not see the organization of a teachers union as an affront to our school leaders. I am frustrated that these efforts have been dismissed by the board. ”

Since BAE presented their petition to the Bricolage board, the board has been publicly critical of the unionization.

In a statement to Mid-City Messenger, Yvette Jones, Bricolage board president said: “The Board itself has not adopted a formal position. However, the sentiment is that unionizing would create an unnecessary and burdensome barrier between individual employees and school leadership. There is no doubt that forming a union would result in employees’ losing their independent voice and their ability to be their own best advocates for things they feel strongly about. We do have great confidence in our employees, and we respect their right to make this decision on their own.”

In late April, the board also sent out an email to parents opposing the union. An Instagram campaign called Independant Bricolage NOLA backed management in opposing the union.

Once passing an NLRB election, the Bricolage board must recognize the educators union. The union is then “entitled to be recognized by the employer as the exclusive bargaining agent for the employees in the unit,” or, according to the NLRB, the school will be committing an “unfair labor practice.”

Brittany Scofield, a Bricolage music teacher and founding member of BAE United, was jubilant as she spoke to the crowd.

“Together we’re going to build a better Bricolage,” she said. “Teacher working conditions are student learning conditions. We’re all standing in our power together.”

Reporter Jesse Baum can be reached at jesse.blacktree@gmail.com.

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