NLRB Rules Against Rhode Island Head Start Workers

In October 2009, District 1199 SEIU filed Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charges with the National Labor Relations Board against Children’s Friend & Service, on behalf of the approximately 200 Head Start employees who were stripped of their union voice when Children’s Friend began managing the Head Start program for Providence & Blackstone Valley.

The charges were based on the union’s allegations of the following:

  • In its Head Start grant application, Children’s Friend promised to hire all existing qualified Head Start employees and to work with staff to meet the federal 2011 and 2013 educational goals, but it reneged on these commitments after it learned that the employees were unionized and it needed a pretext to justify ending their employment.
  • Out of 193 former employees that applied for jobs with Children’s Friend, only 79 were re-hired – even though they all met or exceeded the federal requirements for Head Start employment. The employer is essentially claiming that it decided that a majority of the former Head Start staff were not qualified to continue their employment, despite having never observed their work with children and families.
  • Children’s Friend did not hire a single member of the union’s negotiating committee, despite the fact that these workers possessed equal or greater qualifications and experience as workers who were in fact hired.
  • Children’s Friend did not follow the federal Head Start regulations that clearly require that hiring preference be given to current or former Head Start parents. Many of the displaced Head Start workers – including those on the negotiating committee – were Head Start parents before they became staff members.
  • Children’s Friend has refused at every turn to meet with the union – whether it was to discuss the transition plan when it took over the grant, or to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with the Head Start employees.

The NLRB has now formally declined to bring a complaint against Children’s Friend.

The NLRB regional director said that “there was no evidence that [Children’s Friend] had purposely refused to hire employees of a predecessor employer in order to avoid its obligation to bargain with the union.”

“Rather, it appeared from the evidence that in narrowing its field of qualified candidates from 180 to 168, union membership or active participation was not considered a factor,” Pye, the regional director, said in a letter dated Jan. 22.

Pye also said there was insufficient evidence to support the union’s allegations that Children’s Friend engaged in an anti-union campaign to “interfere with, restrain and coerce employees in their exercise of protected concerted activities.”

For their part, the displaced Head Start workers vow to continue their fight.

“We plan on appealing this decision and working to ensure that Children’s Friend & Service is held accountable for the violations of our rights and the Head Start laws,” said Tina Heyder, a leader from the union’s negotiating committee and former Head Start employee of 19 years. “We’re qualified, experienced, and committed to our children – and it is a shame that this company has used federal tax dollars to displace over one hundred child care workers out of our chosen careers.”

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