Union accuses principal in South Korea of unfair labor practices
Stars and Stripes October 25, 2009
OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — The union representing teachers at Osan American Middle School in South Korea has filed a federal labor complaint accusing principal Jennifer Smith of imposing extra work on teachers as punishment for a previous complaint about her made by the union to the DODEA.
The Federal Education Association filed the unfair labor practice charge Tuesday with the U.S. Federal Labor Relations Authority, according to FEA president Michael Priser.
The union’s complaint against Smith is the second action it has taken publicly this month regarding concerns over management within the Department of Defense Education Activity. In a separate matter, the teachers union has urged the Defense Department Inspector General’s Office to look into allegations that DODEA director Shirley Miles abused her authority.
The FEA accuses Smith of retaliating against teachers for a union complaint made to Miles about a number of allegedly intimidating posters Smith put up on hallway bulletin boards early in the school year. One of them, according to Priser, read: "With or Without You, We’re Going to Do What’s Best for our Students."
Smith, at the direction of Miles, took down the posters but retaliated by imposing extra work — responsibility for maintaining hallway bulletin boards — that forced many faculty to work extra hours, the union contends.
The complaint alleged that teachers were given short notice to complete their initial bulletin boards, assigned boards far from their own classrooms, and barred from including students’ work as part of the content.
"The new assignment is a substantial burden to the entire faculty," the union complaint states.
Priser said the teachers had no objection to maintaining bulletin boards and that doing so was a longstanding educational practice. However, he said, the union filed a complaint because the specific orders Smith gave on carrying out bulletin board duties were punitive and done without the advance notice required under the union’s bargaining contract when a change in working conditions might need to be negotiated.
The FLRA will conduct an investigation and issue a finding, Priser said.
Neither Smith nor Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific will comment on the complaint, DODDS-Pacific spokesman Charles Hoff said Thursday.
The newly built Osan American Middle School has 148 students in grades six, seven and eight and 12 full-time teachers, Hoff said. Smith is in her first position with DODDS but is not new to school administration, he said.
Union members claim Smith has been at odds with the teachers from the start of the school year. According to an Osan American Middle School teacher who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Smith "came in" with a view of DODDS teachers as "lazy, incompetent … everybody needed to change."
"First thing out of her mouth was ‘you’re going to do what I tell you or we’re going to fire you,’ " the teacher said. "That didn’t sit well with most people."
Priser said the FEA, which represents 8,000 DODEA educators worldwide, has filed a flurry of unfair labor practice actions since the start of the new school year.
"We have filed more in this eight weeks than we have in the two years I‘ve been in office," Priser said.
Last year, the FEA filed four complaints; this year it has filed nine, Priser said.
Most of this year’s complaints were filed because Miles allegedly made several decisions that would affect teacher working conditions without first giving the union a chance to exercise its right to negotiate those changes, Priser said.
Earlier this month, Stars and Stripes reported the FEA called for a full investigation by the Defense Department Inspector General into allegations that Miles routinely abused her office by steering jobs to relatives and friends, setting up retreats at luxury spas and resorts, and misusing a government credit card. The IG is looking into the complaints against her, a DOD official said on condition of anonymity.
Miles could not immediately be reached for comment Friday on the allegations made to the IG or Priser’s statements about the recent spate of complaints against DODEA.