EKCC Teaching Artists Win Union

Volume CII, No. 12December, 2002

Joe Eisman

Morrie Sherry, a clarinet teacher and organizing committee member at the Lucy Moses School in the Elaine Kaufman Cultural Center, sat patiently as the National Labor Relations Board agent used his standard, government-issue silver letter opener to carefully rip open the envelopes to 16 challenged ballots before announcing that Local 802 had secured more votes than the employer in the final tally for the faculty’s mail ballot union election.

At the initial ballot count on Oct. 16, the union had secured 51 votes to the Center’s 42, with each side challenging 13 ballots. Since the total number of challenged ballots – 26 – was greater than the union’s margin of victory, the parties would either have to negotiate a stipulated agreement covering most of the challenged ballots or face protracted hearings for each ballot.

Morrie and her colleagues were unanimous in their desire to avoid these expensive hearings, especially since waiting even longer to be certified was risky, given that the employer used the time during the delays to campaign vigorously against the union.

Several weeks later, the union and the employer reached an agreement stipulating that 16 of the 26 challenged ballots would count, eight would not count (mainly because these teachers were no longer employed at the Center, or they were in managerial or supervisory positions) and two would remain challenged.

As the Board agent was about to open the 16 ballots, conduct the revised ballot tally and issue the final vote count, Morrie reflected on the whirlwind of events that had transpired during the past eight months. She found it hard to believe it had been that long since she and her colleagues, along with representatives from 802, had informed the Center that their union represented a strong majority of the teachers at both divisions – the Lucy Moses School and the Special Music School of America.

“Time flies when there’s a professional anti-union campaign directed at you,” Morrie quipped to Allegro. “I can remember, quite clearly, back in March when we notified the administration that we had a majority of signed union cards. A card check would have verified this without the ensuing eight months of expensive legal hearings. Instead, they took an adversarial stance against our campaign, and tried to prevent over half of us from voting.”

After nearly eight months of delays, during which the employer distributed over 50 anti-union letters – each more inaccurate and threatening than the last – the moment of truth finally was close at hand. Did the teachers overcome the numerous captive audience meetings, the threats to close the school down, and, on the other end of the spectrum, the blatant attempts to become more personal with the faculty in an effort to convince them their union was an invasive third party, inimical to everyone’s best interests?

With little fanfare, the Board agent counted the 16 challenged ballots and announced that each side had gained eight additional votes, bringing the union’s total to 59 and management’s to 50. The faculty’s efforts were successful. In a move that made it clear to all the teachers in the room that their union was not an “outside invader,” as the administration continually claimed during the campaign, Morrie, herself, signed off for Local 802 on the Labor Board’s official Revised Tally of Ballots form. She handed the form to a corporate lawyer who signed for the Center, since no one from the administration was present.

“We’re all so proud about what we accomplished,” Mary Barto, a flute and chamber music teacher at Lucy Moses, said after the ballots were counted. “I think other teachers in the city will hear about our victory and realize that it is possible to join together and fight for improvements. Our accomplishments will help the teachers, the students and the Center.”

Later that evening, Miho Matsuno, a violin teacher in both divisions of the Center, sent an email to her colleagues on the organizing committee. “We are absolutely convinced that our victory is due to the teachers’ conviction and determination to have a fair working environment,” she wrote. Your support, understanding, and patience remained constant throughout the very lengthy campaign, and you should take pride in the integrity you brought to the process.”

In a statement to Allegro, Denis Hughes, president of the New York State AFL-CIO, which is the largest state labor federation in the country, said that the teachers’ campaign is an inspiration to the labor movement (see Hughes’ full statement below).

The entire Organizing Department worked on this campaign, with assistance from 802 counsel John Byington. 802 Programmer Joe Rodriguez helped with dozens of web postings, so that people who want more information about the campaign can visit the “Teaching Artists Unite!” section on our web site.

Statement from NYS AFL-CIO President Denis Hughes

I applaud Local 802’s success at the Kaufman Center. To my knowledge, there are no other private, part-time community arts school teachers in New York State who have achieved union representation, and this victory quite possibly is ground breaking even on the national level – certainly for an organization of this size. The fact that these part-time faculty members, who teach at different times and in several divisions, sometimes even from their own private homes, were able to come together to win this election in the face of extraordinary opposition from the employer, is an inspiration to the entire New York labor movement. On behalf of the 2.5 million union members in New York, I congratulate them on this important victory. We will be watching the negotiations to make sure that the Kaufman Center bargains in good faith for a fair contract.