August 21, 2020
Dear BFS Community:
Over the past few days, the School leadership and the Board of Trustees have heard from many of our colleagues and families, expressing both support for and opposition to our petition to the National Labor Relations Board concerning the future role of United Auto Workers Local 2110 at our school. It is with deep respect for the free exchange of ideas that we took substantial time to review and reflect upon every message we received.
We have received and appreciated the feedback that has been both thoughtful and questioning. We recognize the frustration and disappointment expressed by many members of our community and are deeply thankful for the thoughtfulness and honesty with which the concerns were brought forward. We are also saddened by the few who chose to react with personal attacks and accusations, rather than responding in a fair and respectful manner in addressing these complex issues of both the law and our school culture.
The Board and School leadership did not make this decision lightly, and after reflection, we are committed to continuing to move ahead with our plans. We want to explain more fully our actions and address some of the misunderstandings and untruths that have come through in the feedback. (Please review the FAQ, following our signatures at the end of this letter for details.)
Our decision to file this petition came after much consideration, reflection and—on the part of the many Quakers who sit on the Board—worship. We understand why community members and colleagues would be concerned about the impact that this decision might have on the voices of our colleagues. We did not embark on this effort to quiet the voices of our colleagues. Rather, we did this to amplify those voices and to make sure that we are hearing from every individual in our community, as an individual, as we navigate this challenging time that we are living in.
We know that at times we have fallen short of our aspiration to hear colleagues’ voices and meaningfully incorporate those voices into the decision-making of the School. We recognize that, prior to Crissy’s arrival as Head of School, School leadership often made decisions in ways that ignored or dismissed colleagues’ voices or altered decisions made by colleagues who had followed Quaker meeting decision making practice. We want to work collaboratively to address the frustrations that we are hearing. We are recommitted to doing so and to using many of the tools that Quaker process provides.
We also recognize the feelings of many of you that this NLRB action may seem to contradict the history and culture of integrity and activism that lies at the foundation of our Quaker community—particularly given the political climate in which we are all situated. Under our charter, half of our board members must be Quaker, appointed by a joint committee comprised equally of BFS trustees and of New York Quarterly Meeting, and one of our two board co-chairs must be a Quaker-appointed trustee. Our Quaker values commit us to integrity, reflection, equality, peace, simplicity, community, and the profound process of Quaker decision making, which occurs through respectfully hearing each other’s voices while remaining in a space of openness. It involves a commitment to looking for creative solutions, and participation in deep listening in the spirit of humility and love while seeking wisdom and truth.
Our Board and leadership have reached unity on this path forward. The interposition of a union, the first in the School’s long-history, between our faculty and staff as individuals and our school leaders is inimical to, and in fact disallows, much of the communication we need to have for BFS to get through these challenging times and to continue to thrive.
Given our fiduciary duty to the School and our role in preserving its future, we recognize the realistic and serious challenges and concerns of the present moment in time. We are confident and optimistic about this school year and beyond because we believe our shared commitment to the children of BFS and the community of colleagues and parents who nurture them will prevail.
The Board of Trustees with Crissy Cáceres, Head of School
Edward Oliver, Chair, Parent, Member of Brooklyn Monthly Meeting
M. Salomé Galib, Parent Lakisha Grant, Parent, Member of Brooklyn Monthly Meeting
Marie Hoguet, Parent, Member of Brooklyn Monthly Meeting
Audrey Jaynes '03, Alum, Parent, Member of Montclair Meeting
William G. Morris, Jr, Treasurer, Former Head of School Friends Academy
Gustav Peebles, Secretary, Parent, Member of Brooklyn Monthly Meeting
Robin Puskas, Parent, Member of Brooklyn Monthly Meeting
Adam Rashid ‘94, Alum, Member of Brooklyn Monthly Meeting
Judson Reis, Grandparent
Gabe Schwartz, Parent
Marilyn Stotts, Member of Brooklyn Monthly Meeting
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Why have you filed this petition?
Federal courts have long held that NLRB regulation of religious organizations cannot conflict with the religious protections in the First Amendment. Our mission statement opens with "Guided by the belief that there is a divine Light in everyone" and makes clear that we are a religious or spiritually centered community. It is our belief that such a community is created best through deep conversations between colleagues, students, and school leadership, often on an individual basis, to reach unity about what it means to promote spirituality at a Friends School and then to develop action steps to implement what they conclude. Based on our experience, we believe that a collective bargaining relationship regulated by the NLRB is inimical to the Quaker decision-making process that is essential to achieving unity about our spiritual community, and thus to providing the best education for children. We believe unity is present in our community but out of reach until we can directly communicate with each other.
Was this petition filed in retaliation of teachers who do not want to come back to school due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
No. The filing of the petition is to maximize direct communication between colleagues and restore flexibility to efficiently and effectively provide the best education for our students.
Unions fight for the rights of workers. How can that be inconsistent with Quaker values?
We strongly believe that the process of Quaker decision-making involves a commitment to authentic and open communication between individuals as well as groups within the BFS community. In that communication we collaboratively seek creative solutions and engage in deep listening with humility and respect to reach unity on concrete ways to move forward. Unfortunately, the law that applies to an NLRB-regulated collective bargaining relationship places limits on employers’ ability to deal directly with employees on certain important topics. We believe these limitations are inconsistent with Quaker decision-making principles.
Will BFS honor the severance agreements the School negotiated with the Union concerning the recent workforce reduction?
Yes. The School has never wavered from upholding the negotiated arrangement concerning the workforce reduction, including severance payments for affected employees, and all other terms of that agreement.
BFS employees had valid reasons to seek union representation in the first place. Why should they trust BFS now?
The Board of Trustees acknowledges that some colleagues have held valid frustrations about School management issues in recent years. In hindsight, we could have—and should have—promptly addressed those frustrations. Candidly, our colleagues deserve better. The Board of Trustees has carefully considered this reality, and—simply put—we will do better.
Has BFS been negotiating in good faith with the union, as required by law?
Since the Union was certified to represent BFS colleagues in May 2019, BFS has at all times negotiated in good faith toward a collective bargaining agreement and fully met all of its legal bargaining obligations. The School has not been found to have engaged in any unlawful conduct with respect to its relationship with the Union.
Will this situation impact the reopening of school?
No. We are working as hard as we can on our reopening plans. The safety of our students and colleagues have been at the forefront of this planning. As you may have seen in our reopening roadmap, we have conducted extensive research over the past several months to ensure that the planned strategies, practices and protocols we have developed represent best practices from across New York and are based on the most current scientific and medical knowledge and guidance about COVID-19. We will continue to update our approaches to health and safety as we learn more, and the official guidance develops. Our community’s commitment to these practices not only safeguards the entire BFS community but plays an important role in the safety, health and well-being of our broader community.
The Board of Trustees with Crissy Cáceres, Head of School
These FAQs will continue to be updated. You can also find them here.