Barrack Board to No Longer Recognize Union

Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy’s board plans to withdraw recognition of the school’s teachers union in August. (Google Maps screenshot)

The future of the teacher’s union at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, Local 3505, is in jeopardy following a Dec. 4 meeting between the union and school board representatives.

According to a joint statement, the board informed the school that it would withdraw recognition of the union when its current contract expires in August. It is a decision, the board said, that will best serve the school’s mission, but the decision could also weaken the teachers’ ability to negotiate benefits.

The Dec. 4 joint statement from the board and union — signed by board President George Gordon, board First Vice President Howard Treatman and union co-Presidents Minna Ziskind and Hannah Soffer — summarized the meeting.

“On Dec. 4, 2018, representatives of the Board of Directors of Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy and its teacher’s union, Local 3505, met to discuss the future of union representation at the school,” the statement said. “The Board communicated to the Union’s representatives that, as of the expiration of the current contract in August 2019, it will withdraw recognition from the Union.

“The Board asked the Union to join it in a collaborative transition. The Union is conferring with its members to discuss the Board’s request, and it is anticipated that the parties will sit down again, in the very near future, to determine how to move forward. Both sides want to assure all members of the Barrack community that they are committed to seeing this process through in a manner that does not impair the quality of the educational experience for students.”

Gordon said the decision will best position the school in carrying out its mission.

The board, he noted, informed the union of its decision months in advance in order to be transparent and cooperative.

“As reflected in the Joint Statement, the Barrack Board informed the Union that, as of the expiration of the current contract in August 2019, it would be withdrawing recognition of the Union,” Gordon said in an email. “We believe that this decision best positions the school to continue our unique mission of incorporating deeply-rooted Jewish values in a rigorous intellectual environment.

“Rather than waiting for the current contract to expire to inform the Union of its decision, the Barrack Board informed the Union in December 2018 so as to be transparent with the hope that we will be able to work together towards a mutually-agreeable transition.”

Stephen Richman, managing partner at Markowitz & Richman — which specializes in labor, employment, injury and workers’ compensation law — said that without a union the school could reduce teachers’ benefits or offer different benefits to different teachers. Unions give employees security and protection and can be helpful, Richman said, but some people don’t like unions or don’t want to have a partner in deciding how to run things.

“Whatever benefits the teachers have — I really don’t know the details of it — they didn’t grow on a tree,” Richman said. “They were negotiated, and the employees gave up something to get something else. That’s just the way negotiations work.”

In lieu of its own statement, the school pointed to Gordon’s comment.

The presidents of the parent-teacher organization also referred to Gordon, as well as to Alex Stroker, Barrack’s chief operating and development officer.

Ziskind said the teachers want to keep the union. She added that union members are still in discussions following the joint statement.

“The teachers want to keep the union for the good of the students and the good of the school, so we’re exploring options,” she said.

But those options may not be too bright, based on what occurred when Perelman Jewish Day School’s board withdrew recognition of its union five years ago, according to Richman.

In 2014, AFT Pennsylvania, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board after the Perelman board’s decision to withdraw recognition. Perelman argued that the NLRB lacked jurisdiction because it is a religious institution, and the agency dismissed the charges.

“Jewish day school education is essential for a strong and vibrant Jewish community,” Perelman board President Ruth Horowitz said in an email. “Barrack Hebrew Academy has outstanding teachers and administrators. We look forward to a positive outcome as we advance our mission on behalf of our students.”

While teachers unions in public schools continue to remain strong — and have fallen under criticism for putting teachers’ needs over students — the NLRB does not “assert jurisdiction over employees of a religious organization who are involved in effectuating the religious purpose of the organization, such as teachers in church-operated schools,” according to its site.

Barbara Goodman, AFT Pennsylvania communications director, said it is up to the union to decide whether it wants to file charges, but AFT Pennsylvania will support that decision either way.

“We believe that every teacher, every school counselor, every school employee has the right to join a union and bargain collectively,” Goodman said. “Whether they are at a public school, a private school, a charter school, employees should be able to choose.”

Unions have become increasingly rare at Jewish day schools over the years, the Forward reported in an article soon after the Perelman case. “But with its strong union,” the Forward wrote, “Barrack is an outlier among American Jewish day schools.”

That no longer seems to be the case.

“Most religious organizations, whether it’s the Catholic church or the Jewish organizations, they’re all in favor of supporting working people and working people’s rights, except when it’s in their own house,” Richman said. “Then they don’t like it so much anymore.”

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  1. So disappointed in our Jewish day schools that will not support teachers unions and using the excuse they do not support Jewish values. This is untrue and self-serving. Jews were at the forefront in organizing the first labor unions to ensure fair wages and decent working conditions for all workers. Companies do not pay fair wages and give benefits because they are kind and menches. Jewish organizations more than others should be supportive of labor unions for fair pay and the ability to negotiate their needs. For shame Barrack and other schools who are banning the unions.

  2. Unfortunately, they don’t care about the students nor do they support the teachers in any way. Their only concern is that the board will continue to get everything and the teachers get their hard-fought salary and benefits cut to the bone. I feel bad for the students because they are going to alienate the teachers who care, and then they’ll complain about the quality of the teachers coming in because of the lack of experience. I really don’t appreciate the board putting their needs above the students and the teachers who care about a good education.

  3. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Barrack has the reputation of offering an excellent secular and Jewish education based on good teaching and good teachers. Some time in the past, the teachers must have been made to feel so vulnerable that they formed a union. The results have apparently not been detrimental to the school’s obvious success. What is so unsatisfactory about the status quo that led the board to its decision? The article doesn’t elucidate.

    Workers can achieve more equality with the power of management when they form a union. Collective bargaining tends to achieve a more just allocation of resources among the stakeholders of any enterprise.

    As a Jewish community institution, Barrack should be a model employer and an example for its students
    and for the community.

  4. Shame. Shame on Barrack for selling out the Akiba legacy then bleeding the teachers dry for paying the administration-heavy staff. The government should open their books.

  5. While this article is a good overview of the situation at the moment, it lacks information on the history of this school and its unionization. Why did and do the teachers feel the need for a union? What kinds of salaries, work conditions and benefits are the teachers being offered? Why is there not a trusting relationship without the presence of a union? Sadly, there are few schools out there that demonstrate a trusting, respectful relationship between staff and board. If anyone thinks teachers are overcompensated for their hard work, I’d ask them to step into a classroom and follow a teacher throughout her/his day, week, month and year. You want good teachers? You watch how hard they work.

  6. Having gone through this unpleasant experience at Perelman five years ago, I empathize with Barrack faculty. They should, however, remain focused on their students and remain the outstanding professionals they have always been.

  7. As the spouse of a history teacher at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy and a parent of a graduate of Akiba/Barrack, I have witnessed first hand the long hours, hard work, collaboration with colleagues and tremendous commitment that the teachers have had for their students’ education.

    I am disappointed that the Board of Directors has taken this position, showing a strong disregard for its teaching staff and for future students and parents.

    Some time ago, a consulting firm was brought to Barrack to learn all it could about the workings of the school, to assess their findings and provide recommendations to the board. As a researcher for the last 40 years, I would have assumed that such a consulting firm would speak to all stakeholders to learn all they could from the totality of the Barrack community: The Board of Directors, the administration, the admissions group, the accounting team, the development team, parents of alum, parents of current students, alumnae and, of course, the teachers.

    It was disappointing to learn that this consulting organization never once spoke with any of the teachers. They came with an agenda to break the union and that was at the heart of their recommendation.

    It is especially disappointing to see the number of board members who are leading the attack having had children who have successfully completed their studies at Akiba/Barrack. Their children have moved on to college and successful careers, having benefited from the phenomenal education they had received from the teaching staff. Why would they not want the current and future parents of the Barrack community to enjoy the same benefits?

    Shame on them and anybody else in the community who supports this decision.

  8. As a current parent of a student at Barrack, I feel as though I’ve been stabbed in the back and have nowhere to turn for answers. George Gordon, an antitrust attorney, whose four children graduated from Barrack and were the recipients of a stellar education with a faculty who felt valued and secure and appreciated, is unwilling to give my daughter what his children received. There is no meeting for the parents, and we were merely informed by email of this decision, at a time when contracts for our children have been signed and returned. I reached out to the board and received no reply.

    It’s ironic that this proclamation was made at a time when teachers are in Israel with eighth grade students and during a time when sirens went off. How much compensation is this worth?

    At a time when the Jewish people are under attack from every angle, do we need to be attacked and mistreated in our safe zones? It’s time for Gordon to reread the pledge that his children signed. This is not the Jewish education I wanted for my child. This is not how I’ve taught her to negotiate and work in community.

    Barrack’s school is the teachers. Barrack’s teachers have taught my child beyond my expectations and dreams. They are the school. Barrack will not attract and retain the caliber of teachers that is currently has and there won’t be a return to a union. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. I can no longer extol its virtues to all my friends and family who made the choice not to send their children to a Jewish school. I am hurt and saddened that a message of unappreciation is communicated to the teachers because I hold them in the highest esteem and will always be grateful for the above and beyond they always go. If anyone knows how to help, please let me know.


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