[ Fighting for you ]

Yonkers FT notches big PERB win in union interference case

By Matthew Hamilton



recent Public Employment Relations Board victory out of Yonkers is a major win for local unions, sending a clear message that school district administration must not interfere with a union’s right to represent its members.

The victory for the Yonkers Federation of Teachers stems from actions by district administrators to interfere with YFT members’ attempts to seek the union’s assistance on various issues happening at William Boyce Thompson School in the northwest section of the city. The nine-part order from Administrative Law Judge Kafui Aku Bediako is a stinging rebuke of the district, in essence ordering administrators to respect the legally protected rights of the YFT to represent the district’s teachers.

“We’ve always stood for the rights of Yonkers educators and the communities we serve, and we won’t be intimidated into backing down when YFT members need an advocate in their corner,” President Samantha Rosado-Ciriello said. “We need to stand up for the right of our brothers and sisters to speak about workplace concerns. That’s a fundamental right that, as unionists, we’ll always fight for.”

The decision comes nearly four years after incidents that led YFT to begin filing improper practice charges against the district.

The first was when Boyce Principal Taren Washington griped at a staff meeting that concerns about an upcoming schoolwide event were brought to YFT Elementary Vice President Michael Garbowski — who in turn contacted central office administration — instead of keeping the matter within the building.

Bediako found not only that rank-and-file Boyce teachers may contact Garbowski — as opposed to the principal or their building rep — about an issue, but “Washington may not, as an agent of the employer, make pronouncements to YFT members that sow doubt as to the authority of a YFT official to represent them.”

In a second incident that school year, during another faculty meeting, the principal again raised that district administration had been contacted by the YFT, this time about a school fundraising issue and staff performing bus duty outside the scope of YFT’s contract.

This time, the principal “told YFT’s membership that the employees who are ‘tak(ing) notes and report(ing) it back’ to the YFT about these issues are ‘non-transparent,’ ‘part of the problem,’ ‘unprofessional,’ ‘miserable,’ ‘selling their souls,’ and ‘unconcerned with the students’ needs,’” according to Bediako’s decision.

What’s more, Bediako found that Washington threatened “to be less flexible with teachers when they ask for leniency concerning the use of time and leave, because of the fact the YFT attempted to conform some of the practices at the school to the CBA.”

The YFT’s case was strengthened by audio recordings made during the meetings by members who felt the tone of the gatherings was becoming openly hostile toward the union. In admonishing the district, Bediako noted the persuasiveness of the evidence captured on the recordings.

Bediako ultimately ordered the district to take a laundry list of actions, including to stop dictating to YFT members that they should address concerns to district administrators before, or instead of, addressing them to YFT. Notably, the judge also ordered the district to stop “discriminating against YFT members for the purpose of discouraging their membership in, or participation in the activities of, the YFT.”

YFT was represented in the case by associate counsel Elizabeth Jackson from NYSUT’s Office of General Counsel.