Judge Orders Halt to Merrick firings

Temporary restraining order granted in dismissal of 11 charter school staffers. An Albany judge — acting on a request by the state’s Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) — on Aug. 25 issued a temporary restraining order to prevent a Queens charter school from firing 11 staff members who charged that their mass dismissal earlier this summer was in reprisal for union activities.

Albany County Judge Michael C. Lynch issued the restraining order after meeting with attorneys for PERB, the United Federation of Teachers, and representatives of Merrick Academy Charter School.

Judge Lynch ordered that Merrick Charter School “is hereby enjoined and restrained from implementing its decision to discontinue the employment of the teachers and teaching assistants” at issue in the case, and “from replacing said teachers and teaching assistants.”

The order goes into effect on Friday, Aug. 27, the day the judge scheduled a hearing on PERB’s request to overturn the terminations.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said, “The staff of Merrick Charter School has fought to make the school a better place for students, their families and the professionals who work there. They deserve better than to be fired for their efforts. I want to thank PERB and the court for their quick action in this important matter. We look forward to Friday’s hearing and an opportunity to further make the case for justice for Merrick’s staff.”

The employees, eight teachers and three teaching assistants, represent approximately one-third of the professional staff of Merrick. They were fired without prior notice — via letters delivered by FedEx — in late July.

Merrick’s employees voted to join the UFT in 2007. The Public Employment Relations Board certified the UFT as the teachers’ bargaining agent in March 2008. After repeated fruitless attempts to negotiate a contract, the UFT filed for a declaration of impasse with PERB December 2009 and five mediation sessions have taken place.

Parents and teachers at the 500-student school have raised questions about heating and plumbing problems, textbook shortages, a leaky roof and financial mismanagement. Some teachers still earn the 2006 wage for New York City public school teachers.

Merrick Academy is administered by Victory Schools, a for-profit operator, which charges $1.36 million in fees per year, more than 21 percent of the school’s total budget, on management fees. Victory Management operates a total of six schools in New York City earning $4.41 million in fees per year.

This article originally appeared in The New York Teacher on August 19th, 2010, visit UFT.org website for the full article.