After two days of striking, a Quaker school in Downtown Brooklyn has agreed to recognize a union formed by its teachers and staff.
“The strike which began on Monday ended last night,” the Brooklyn Friends School union announced on Twitter, calling the move “a complete victory for the workers.”
The decision came after BFS teachers, teachers from other schools, members of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and families picketed on Monday and Tuesday in front of the school’s building, at 375 Pearl Street. Some parents set up a GoFundMe campaign to support the strikers, raising more than $58,500 as of this morning. The money will be refunded since the teachers can now return to work.
“At the moment, all that matters is reopening our doors (virtual and physical) for our students,” the school wrote in an email “They need school and the care that it offers. We will continue working towards a Collective Bargaining Agreement contract with the UAW that will allow us to open the lines of communication with the purposes of providing better care for our colleagues.”
Megan Glionna, a third-grade teacher at BFS, took her children to the protests. She initially chose to teach at the Quaker school and enrolled her children as students because of its promotion of liberal values and social justice. It was frustrating for her not to be able to be part of a union when so much of the school’s curriculum is about civil rights.
“I am thrilled the petition was withdrawn and we can go back to work and school,” said Glionna. “My daughters learned an important lesson about standing up for what is right. Last night when i put my youngest to bed she said, ‘Mom, I’m proud of you.’”
The faculty and staff voted to unionize in the spring of last year in part because of a lack of a place to go to for grievances (the school only hired its first HR director last month, according to Glionna). The union was also meant to “ensure transparent procedures for evaluation and grievances, establish equitable hiring and termination protocols and demand equitable pay for all workers,” as stated on its website.
With over 80 percent voting in favor of unionizing, contract talks began at the end of 2019. However, the coronavirus pandemic delayed negotiations. In the interim, Crissy Cáceres was hired as the new head of school in the summer.
“The new head of school was going to start in July and asked us (in an email) not to vote for the union,” said Glionna. “She did not want to work for an unionized school.”
Cáceres’ reasoning behind disbanding the union, the New York Times reported, was based on a June decision by the National Labor Relations Board to reverse an Obama-era ruling regarding the Board’s jurisdiction over faculty members at religious institutions. Essentially, it takes away religious affiliated institutions’ rights to organize.
“That you would now question that right based on a reactionary Trump-dominated Labor Board precedent is unconscionable,” said the BFS union in an open letter to Cáceres. “Standing behind a policy that unfairly restricts the rights of workers to unionize, serves to delegitimize the school’s legacy of integrity and social justice.”
Now, with many schools struggling to reopen and without a clear plan ahead, Glionna believes that being part of a union is more crucial than ever.
“So much of the reopening plan needs teacher involvement that school admins don’t recognize. Having teachers in those conversations is so critical and a union is important for that. Unions are crucial to protecting workers rights, particularly during a global pandemic,” she said.