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Analysis: Who will run UTLA next? A rundown of the candidates, and what sets them apart (or doesn’t)

Mike Antonucci | February 5, 2020

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Mike Antonucci’s Union Report appears weekly at LA School Report.

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It’s election season — not just for America’s political parties, but for United Teachers Los Angeles. The union mailed ballots to members this week. They will vote by mail or online, with the results to be tabulated Feb. 28. Active members will choose the UTLA president and other top officers for the next three years.

UTLA elections were once sleepy affairs where small turnouts of members reelected officers or installed heirs-apparent when the incumbents were term-limited out. That all changed in 2005, when UTLA President John Perez became the first incumbent defeated in the union’s history. He lost handily to A.J. Duffy, whose slate emphasized Perez’s do-nothing tenure and cozy relationship with the district.

Accurate or not, challengers in union elections almost always accuse incumbents of failing to be militant enough. Duffy was backed by a progressive coalition of union activists and served the maximum of two three-year terms.

But his chosen successor was unexpectedly defeated by Warren Fletcher in 2011. Fletcher was also backed by a progressive caucus within UTLA, but when his first term was up, he was defeated by Alex Caputo-Pearl, who, unsurprisingly, won with the backing of a progressive caucus within UTLA.

Now Caputo-Pearl is term-limited out, but he is running for a UTLA vice president post. He and his slate endorsed Cecily Myart-Cruz for president. She currently holds the vice president slot Caputo-Pearl is seeking.

Myart-Cruz, Caputo-Pearl and their Union Power slate are running on their record, particularly on the teacher strike of 2019. But they face challengers. Outside observers will see little to distinguish them on external issues; every candidate wants more from LA Unified and increased organizing of members to get those things. It often takes some reading between the lines to determine where the challengers differ from the incumbents.

Marisa Crabtree is a candidate for president on the ElevatEd slate. There is nothing on their platform that a union activist might find objectionable. You have to go to Crabtree’s statements to find where she thinks the current leadership is lacking.

“I remember thinking that the topics we discussed [at a UTLA Board meeting] had nothing to do with what my teachers at my school or any of the other teachers in that room really cared about, and yet no one was pushing to make those topics the center of our discussion,” she wrote on her slate’s website. “I realized the union doesn’t represent all voices. It was at the moment I decided to stand for all students and teachers.”

Crabtree’s campaign emails criticize the way “UTLA had begun to prioritize politics over the profession” and could only “muster enough defense to maintain the status quo, and just enough offense to make a political superstar out of our current union president.”

Another candidate, Innocent Osunwa, received 60 votes for UTLA president in 2014 and garnered eight write-in votes for Hilda Solis’s seat in the 32nd Congressional District in 2008. His concerns about UTLA’s operations seem to be mostly procedural.

By way of contrast, candidate Greg Russell sees the current leadership as a “monopoly … of politicians and yes men.” He accuses UTLA of “repeated fraud” and of “sacrificing the needs of membership to make UTLA into a part of the Democratic Party.” Russell received 575 votes when he ran for the office of UTLA secondary vice president in 2011.

I don’t know if candidate Soni Lloyd has a chance to win, but he has two of the ingredients traditionally necessary for ousting incumbents: the backing of a progressive slate and the belief that the current leaders aren’t militant enough.

Lloyd is the choice of the CoreLA slate, and his candidate statement concludes with the phrase “Power to the teachers against the traitors.” He calls for abolishing charter schools and accuses the union of being complicit in the privatization of the school system. Lloyd asserts that the UTLA political action committee “routinely borrows money from UTLA membership so your money is used to finance privatizer politicians whether you contribute or not.” He says union leaders “continue to follow a losing model of shoveling tons of money at essentially anti-labor candidates for school board seats hoping for a miraculous turn around in the state of things.”

Turnout for UTLA elections usually hovers around 25 percent, which means a winning candidate needs a highly committed bloc of activists more than broad appeal. It’s possible that one of these candidates could muster that kind of effort.

But these challengers do lack one attribute for success. Multiple candidates tend to split the opposition vote in union elections. The best they can hope for is that one of them makes it into a runoff against Myart-Cruz, at which point a unified effort could bring victory. Otherwise, it looks like a walkover for her, Caputo-Pearl and the Union Power slate.

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