PI Original Ellyn Fortino Friday August 7th, 2015, 3:35pm

Urban Prep Faces Backlash Over Alleged Retaliatory Teacher Firings (VIDEO)

During a Friday morning protest, education and worker activists demanded that Urban Prep Academies "do the right thing" and reinstate the 16 teachers who claim they were fired in retaliation for joining a union.

Urban Prep Academies is taking heat from education and worker activists after 16 charter school teachers were fired in June just weeks after they voted to join a union.

Fired Urban Prep teachers and their allies protested Friday morning outside the downtown Chicago office of the charter school operator's board chairman Joseph McCoy. Toting signs reading, "Do the right thing," group members delivered a letter to McCoy's office, requesting a meeting with him and that the fired Urban Prep teachers be reinstated. 

Chanting, "Chairman McCoy: Bring our teachers back!", representatives from Arise Chicago, the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff  (Chicago ACTS) Local 4343, the Chicago Teachers Union and SEIU* Healthcare Illinois rallied with the former Urban Prep teachers.

"As a publicly-funded charter school, Urban Prep has a responsibility to explain to the people of Chicago why we should not assume that this is simply an act of intimidation and retaliation," said the Rev. John Thomas, an Arise Chicago board member.

In early June, charter school teachers at Urban Prep's three Chicago campuses voted 56-36 in favor of joining Chicago Acts. Urban Prep later fired 16 teachers and two staffers, many of whom led union organizing efforts, according to Chicago ACTS Local 4343 President Brian Harris, who said the terminations were unjust.

"On June 3, when 60 percent of the teachers at Urban Prep voted to form a union, they created a situation where the employer legally cannot make significant changes to working conditions without consulting with the union, without negotiating," Harris explained. "Certainly, firing 15 percent of their staff is a significant change in working conditions. This is the law. They cannot do that. And they certainly cannot do it to punish people for forming a union."

Charges of unfair labor practices have been filed with the National Labor Relations Board over the firings, Harris said. 

Chicago ACTS, he added, is "willing to look past" this situation "and move forward" if Urban Prep makes things right by hiring back the terminated workers and accepting their union.

LaTroy Farrow is one of the 16 Urban Prep teachers who were fired. He taught at Urban Prep's West Campus. 

"I think that it's problematic that Urban Prep (as) an organization does not practice what they preach," he said. "One of their pillars is integrity, and in this situation they have not acted with integrity. Teachers have been thrown away as if they do not matter."

Another teacher, Mathias Muschal, was also fired from Urban Prep's Englewood Campus. Muschal, who coached track and field at the school, said insubordination was the official reason for his firing. He said school officials cited a pizza party he threw for athletes and their parents. Muschal claims he did nothing wrong and believes the teacher terminations were in "direct retaliation for our efforts to unionize."

"How can a school who throws away teachers so haphazardly claim that they care about the development of the network?" Muschal said. "When you throw away institutional knowledge like that, you are not doing anything to advance the school as a whole. And more importantly, when you throw away those teachers who have connections with those students, what does that say about a school who's willing to break those relationships?"

Multiple calls to Urban Prep for comment were not returned.

Here's more from Muschal and Thomas:

Urban Prep teachers began their union organizing efforts in the fall of 2014, Muschal said.

Attitudes among school leaders toward the teachers' unionizing campaign were initially supportive, Muschal said. But that later changed, and teachers were allegedly brought into various anti-union meetings with their principals.

"Teachers at all three campuses would have to sit in what were called professional development meetings, but really opportunities for the principals to dole out anti-union rhetoric," Muschal said. "It was clear that they had an opinion about which direction the school should go into, and they were voicing that opinion."

*The SEIU Illinois council sponsors this website.

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