COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – A union representing Columbus City Schools teachers said the district’s move to strip a group of educators of their union status violates Ohio labor laws.

The Columbus Education Association, which represents nearly 4,500 educators in Columbus schools, filed an unfair labor practice charge with the State Employment Relations Board Thursday. It takes issue with the district’s decision to reclassify seven Project Connect educators – whose primary role is working with homeless students – and two other roles from full-time hourly positions to civil service positions.

By doing so, Project Connect educator Amy Bradley told the Columbus Board of Education that she and her colleagues could face pay cuts of up to 30% and will lose their union contracts with CEA. In addition to Project Connect jobs, the other two positions being stripped of union status are a justice-involved youth coordinator and a foster care liaison, according to the CEA’s unfair labor practice charge.

“Losing our union status would make Project Connect a less desirable career and weaken our community relationships that help feed, clothe, and educate our most vulnerable youth,” Bradley said.

Through a federally funded program, Project Connect staff provide services to Columbus youth experiencing homelessness – like transportation, wellness checks and financial assistance – to ensure they still have access to public education, according to the district’s website.

Jacqueline Bryant, a spokesperson for the district, said it reclassified Project Connect educators under the non-teaching civil service titles of Academic Youth Support Advocate and Student Services Program Coordinator in June.

“All of our students, including our homeless students, receive instruction from our dedicated, licensed teachers,” Bryant said in an email. “Non-instructional support for our homeless students can be appropriately provided by District non-teaching employees.”

No student will receive lesser services because of the reclassification of Project Connect educators, Bryant said. 

“Change, even when challenging, is sometimes necessary,” Bryant said. “But the bottom line is that we will always keep our students as our top priority.”

But Bradley said by “de-professionalizing” her and her colleagues, the district conveys a message to homeless students that “they deserve less: less professionalism, less stability, and less oversight.”

“Why would the District destabilize a department that seeks to stabilize education for our most vulnerable youth? How is that equitable? How does that serve the whole child?” she said.

The unfair labor practice charge comes as the CEA and the district’s board continue to negotiate a new labor contract. The current contract, according to the CEA, expires Aug. 22.

The State Employment Relations Board, tasked with reviewing unfair labor claims in Ohio, will investigate the union’s allegations to determine whether a violation occurred.