Brooklyn Friends School to close Monday, Tuesday due to planned strike

Brooklyn Friends School
Brooklyn Friends School at Pearl Street in Downtown Brooklyn.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

Brooklyn Friends School will close its doors Monday and Tuesday in response to a planned staff strike over the school leadership’s union-busting tactics, Brooklyn Paper has learned.

In an email to parents Sunday afternoon obtained by this newspaper, the Downtown Brooklyn private school’s principal Crissy Cáceres wrote that BFS’s leaders chose to shutter for the first two days of the week to continue talks with union officials and avoid the strike from disrupting classes.

“We have made the extremely difficult decision to close school this Monday and Tuesday,” reads the Oct. 4 email from Cáceres and the school’s board of trustees. “This decision will allow for these conversations to take place and simultaneously avoid the stressful impact of a strike on our students, families, and colleagues.”

Bigwigs of the Pearl Street Quaker school and reps from the United Auto Workers Local 2110 — which helped staff form a union last year — have been meeting and negotiating through lawyers since Friday afternoon with hopes of preventing the strike.

BFS workers were slated to strike starting Oct. 5 until the administration halts its efforts to dissolve the staff union by withdrawing their August petition with the National Labor Relations Board seeking to decertify the union on religious grounds. School leaders claim the collective bargaining effort violates the educational institution’s Quaker values.

The union announced the walkout in an Oct. 1 open letter saying the decision to strike had come after “exhausting all other options.”

In an email sent Friday, Oct. 2, administrators said that the school’s Human Resources director hired several teachers in anticipation of the strike in partnership with the Chicago-based substitute teacher program Kokua Education.

One source who first shared the BFS emails with this newspaper slammed leadership for hiring “scabs” while using a phony religious excuse to crack down on employees’ rights to organize.

“What they’re calling Quaker values is union busting and not allowing teachers to negotiate for a union, it’s really BS,” said the source, who asked not to be identified out of fear of retribution from the school. “Meanwhile they’re hiring scabs to replace them.”

Faculty and staff launched the collective bargaining effort in the spring of 2019 following a string of controversial layoffs and growing tension between administrators and staff about a perceived lack of transparency, teachers said. Eighty percent of staffers voted in favor of forming the union with UAW, shortly before Cáceres took charge of the school.

BFS teachers, parents, and students slammed the administration’s August petition and demanded its withdrawal, arguing that the union-busting efforts go against the school’s social-justice-focused curriculum and progressive values.

The source echoed those sentiments.

“It’s diabolical because they’re acting as if this is their religious [right],” the source said. “Quaker values are liberal values, they’re pro-worker…They’re using so-called Quaker values to deny a fundamental principle of labor law: the right to collective bargaining.”

Union members, who have protested outside the building against the decision, voted 120 to five to authorize the strike on Sept. 22. Since the vote, labor leaders say they have been trying to work with the school to negotiate a path forward with the help of two Quaker professors who are labor relations experts, according to a letter from union members and UAW Local 2110.

Cáceres and the board of trustees declined to give specifics about the negotiations, but said talks are ongoing. 

“We believe that any process involving a decision of this magnitude necessitates care and time, and as such, we are continuing negotiations. We also believe it necessary and critical to engage in a shared conversation to place the needs of our colleagues and students at the center. We will not be discussing the details of our ongoing negotiations at this time,” the leaders said in a joint statement by email. 

A spokeswoman for the union did not immediately return a request for further comment.

Additional reporting by Rose Adams

Update (Sunday, Oct. 4, 5:37 pm): This story has been updated to include further comment from BFS.