In 2010, Patricia Raclot, a French citizen and elementary school teacher, joined an effort to organize teachers and staff at the Portland French School (United States) to help give employees there a voice in their working conditions, similar to what she experienced in France. However, she never imagined the anti-union campaign the school would wage. During her six years at the school, she had worked hard to make a difference for her students, fellow co-workers and the community. She had helped to create a mentoring program for new teachers, and coordinated numerous school activities. However, when she and her co-workers found that they had little input in terms of working conditions, curriculum, and school activities, they contacted AFT-Oregon. They collected cards from a majority of faculty and staff and asked that their union, the American French School Employees, be voluntarily recognized by the employer. 

The day after the union requested recognition, Raclot was informed that her visa paperwork had been stopped and that her contract would not be renewed. Raclot wasn’t the only one targeted in the school’s anti-union campaign. Three other teachers saw their contracts terminated, and one quit. Many others endured harassment, threats and a smear campaign launched by the school and its board. Indeed, in 2011, an administrative law judge ruled that the school had violated the National Labor Relations Act in its opposition to union organizing by its teachers and staff. The judge found that the school committed numerous unfair labour practices ranging from work rules forbidding employees from discussing working conditions; to telling employees the union was a “stigma” and “stigmatized” the school; to threatening to close the school in opposition to unionizing; to threatening reprisals against employees if they supported a union; to suggesting it would remedy their concerns if they dropped union organizing.

As part of the decision, Raclot was to have her work visa and position at the school restored, along with back pay. Instead, the private school opted to close due to financial concerns caused at least in part by the legal fees it invested in its union busting campaign. What follows are some of Raclot’s reflections about her experience:

“I wanted to study and work in a school where you have teachers who come from all over the world to share experiences from different countries and cultures. I received a lot of support from parents and the community. Everything was fine— parents were proud of my teaching, and children had good results in my classes.

I had been in a union as a teacher in France. There, with a union, you have answers right away, or you can go on strike if something is wrong. You can work with those who can change the laws.

It’s so important to be represented when there are so many people concerned—the kids, parents, teachers and staff. But the day after we requested recognition, I was told by the head of the school that my visa paperwork for the following year had been stopped.  I was not expecting that at all. We were really willing to work with administration, but just wanted to have a way to raise our concerns. I thought the head of the school would just recognize the union without having an election. 

I was shocked by the anti-union campaign at PFS. It’s not like that in France. But it’s not my personality to step down. I’d rather stay and fight for all who were fired, laid off, or harassed. I want to show that an employer cannot do whatever it wants just because it has the power.” 

Story and photo courtesy of Jillian Smith, AFT-Oregon