On Thursday, Slate published “How Charter Schools Bust Unions,” a skewed portrayal of the anti-union tactics of charter schools from the writer and sociologist Hella Winston.
The piece, which was reported in partnership with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute, is presented as in-depth reporting, but it reads a lot more like pro-union advocacy. Winston sets out to portray charter school leaders as villains, union organizers as heroes, and cherry-picks facts and anecdotes to make her case.
In the process, Winston dispenses with journalistic principles like objectivity and balance. Pro-union voices are featured throughout the article while opposite views are never included.
Moreover, Winston fails to disclose a potential conflict. It’s interesting to note that the piece focuses primarily on the charter-organizing efforts of unions affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), because the Nation Institute has received funding from AFT in recent years, a fact that Winston never discloses.
Winston’s bias is also readily apparent in her section on a recent organizing effort at Lusher Charter School in New Orleans, which I’ve written extensively about.
To start, her suggestion that it was inappropriate for Lusher parents to get involved in the dispute over the organizing effort is ridiculous. Parents have more of a right than anyone to make their views known on any issue that could impact their children’s education. Public schools like Lusher exist to serve students and families, not their employees.
Second, as Winston notes, Lusher’s teachers ultimately rejected the union in a vote held by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), 77-54. She characterizes the outcome as a “dramatic reversal” of support among the school’s teachers, pointing to the initial union petition, which organizers claimed was backed an overwhelming majority of the faculty.
The insinuation is that intense pressure from administrators and parents led some teachers to change their positions, but she leaves out the fact that there were serious questions raised about the organizing tactics used by the union.
The New Orleans Advocate reported that many teachers felt coerced into signing the petition, while others publicly complained that they were never told about the organizing drive at all. Furthermore, at least one teacher filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the NLRB over the coercive and intimidating tactics of union organizers.
Incredibly, none of this is mentioned by Winston. Instead, she shares the perspective of a single Lusher parent, Erika Zucker, who is anything but a neutral third party. Zucker works for the Workplace Justice Project at Loyola University in New Orleans, a group that is allied with several local unions. Winston omits Zucker’s union connections and instead mentions she’s a “labor policy advocate.”
This isn’t journalism, it’s union propaganda.