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Fusion Academy private school staff joins UFT

By a wide margin, educators at the Fusion Academy Park Avenue private school in Manhattan elected to join the UFT in late April. The UFT will represent all 42 staff members of the school.

Frustrating work schedules and substandard wages prompted Fusion employees to seek union representation. The alternative private school offers “one-to-one classrooms” for students in grades 6 to 12. It promises to provide instruction customized to meet each student’s unique needs.

Fusion Academy’s flexible scheduling often requires teachers to be available for long periods until they are needed, but the school only pays them hourly wages for the time they actually deliver instruction, said Miles Trager, the UFT’s coordinator of services and negotiations in charter and private schools. Student tuition can range from $40,000 to $70,000 per year, but the for-profit institution pays its instructors only $25 to $35 per hour, according to Trager.

In these conditions, Trager said, one-on-one conversations among school employees about the need for a union soon developed into a full-fledged organizing drive.

“As it became more and more evident that decisions were made unilaterally at the corporate level with no say from teachers, our frustrations grew,” said Sean Damlos-Mitchell, a Fusion Academy teacher who was active in the union-organizing drive. “Our teachers desired a voice, and as it became apparent over and over again that our school would deny us one, we decided to organize and to form a union.”

Fusion Academy Park Avenue is part of a national chain of private schools headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan — a hot spot for school-privatization efforts. The chain, which is expanding, has 42 schools, including three in New York City.

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