Union to hit Olney Charter with unfair labor practice charge

Posted: January 28, 2014

PHILADELPHIA A union that has been involved in organizing teachers at Olney Charter High School is set to file an unfair labor practice charge Monday over a new social-media policy the union said was an attempt to silence staff.

The Alliance of Charter School Employees, a local affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers Pennsylvania, alleges that Aspira Inc. of Pennsylvania, the nonprofit that runs Olney, bars workers from making negative comments about their employer on social media, including in blogs and online forums.

Union representatives allege the policy violates national labor law by infringing on the rights of employees during an organizing campaign. The charge will be filed with the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board in Center City.

"The whole issue of social media has come to the fore in the last couple of years," said Sam Lieberman, an attorney with the AFT. "These type of policies are more common than we would like."

The Aspira policy says it "is focused on social-media activities inside and outside of work that could affect your work performance, the performance of other employees, or the academic and business interests of the Aspira schools."

Employees suspected of violating the policy can be subject to discipline, including losing their jobs.

The 43 teachers hired at the start of the current school year were required to sign the policy, the union said. Employees already on staff were told during the fall the policy applied to them, too.

The alliance has been working to unionize Olney's staff for months in a hard-fought campaign. Teachers supporting the drive have used social media heavily.

Documents provided to The Inquirer that will be sent to the NLRB say that, among other things, teachers who support the union have made comments about the campaign on Facebook and Twitter. They started a blog called aspiravoices.org in June.

The union contends Aspira's leaders devised the social-media policy over the summer to chill communications and retaliate "for the extensive use of social media" in the organizing campaign at Olney.

The Philadelphia School Reform Commission in 2011 authorized Aspira to merge Olney East and West High Schools into a single school and convert it to a charter as part of the district's Renaissance program to turn around low-performing schools.


martha.woodall@phillynews.com

215-854-2789

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