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August 25, 2014 By:
National Labor Relations Board Dismisses Charges Against Local Day School
The National Labor Relations Board has dismissed charges against the Perelman Jewish Day School that it violated federal labor regulations by unilaterally deciding to no longer recognize its teachers’ union.
The American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania filed the charges in April on behalf of Perelman teachers after they were made aware of the school board’s decision regarding the union that had represented them since 1976.
In an Aug. 22 letter from Dennis Walsh, regional director of the NLRB, to Channing Cooper, counsel for the AFT in Pennsylvania, Walsh said his board has “lack of jurisdiction over this case.”
The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 states that employees of any profession reserve the right to be represented in collective bargaining agreements “through representatives of their own choosing.” Although Walsh’s ruling does not detail why there is no jurisdiction, Perelman board members have asserted that judicial precedent set by the National Labor Relations Board v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago case in 1979 excludes private religious schools from protection under the federal act.
Lisa Richman, the teachers’ union representative at Perelman, said she was surprised and saddened by the dismissal.
“We remain committed to the democratic ideal that all employees have the right to choose union representation and to create a structure by which we can work collaboratively as equals with PJDS board and administration without fear of intimidation or reprisal,” Richman wrote in a statement. “We look forward to a time when teachers and administrators can sit across the table again as equals to chart a course that makes Perelman Jewish Day School the best school for its students and for the Philadelphia Jewish community.”
Perelman is a private school affiliated with the Conservative movement, with 55 teachers serving more than 300 students in kindergarten through fifth grade on campuses in Wynnewood and Elkins Park.
Individual contracts made directly with the school will replace the union contracts by the time the new school year officially commences on Sept. 4. To Richman’s knowledge, at least five teachers from last year, three of whom retired, will not be returning. Two left for personal reasons, which Richman said she didn’t believe were connected to the labor dispute.
Board member Aaron Freiwald, a parent of a Perelman student who has served as the point person on the decision to no longer recognize the union, declined to comment on the dismissal of the charges. In the past, he has stated that the move was made purely to benefit the students, and that fears of teachers being unfairly released are unfounded.
Several teacher meetings and signed petitions against the board’s move did little to stop it, but union representatives say that this latest decision by the NLRB will only prolong the legal process.
“We will appeal the decision,” asserted Ted Kirsch, president of AFT-PA. “It’s still immoral and unethical for a Jewish school to do this — it’s just wrong.”
The union has until Sept. 5 to file its appeal to the general counsel of the NLRB.
Judy Groner, who was hired as head of school at Perelman before the labor dispute began and is officially starting her post this academic year, said that as with a divorce, “there needs to be time allowed to heal. I want to be sensitive to the feelings of the teachers who have been in a teachers’ union for decades. Feelings were hurt, and I don’t think that can be ignored.”