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Caputo-Pearl calls for UTLA dues increase in face of ‘dangers’ ahead

Michael Janofsky | August 3, 2015

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Alex Caputo-Pearl

UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl

Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, used his state of the union speech Friday night to call for a raise in union dues of $19 a month, an increase he said would enable the union to prepare for future challenges “greater and more dangerous” than those of recent years.

Reminding members that UTLA has not changed its dues structure since 1970, he warned that the current level of contributions would leave the union “bankrupt or dramatically weakened” in the years ahead. 

“UTLA needs to invest in itself the way serious organizations have always invested in themselves,” he told a crowded room at La Quinta, where the union held its annual leadership conference over the weekend.

Then, alluding to the union’s successes of the last year, which included a new labor agreement with LA Unified and successful campaigns in three of four board seat elections, he added, “Let’s be clear, we are a more powerful union than we were a year ago, but we must be a stronger union tomorrow than we are today because the challenges in front of us are greater and more dangerous than they were yesterday.”

Currently, UTLA’s full-time teachers pay $689 a year in dues. Raising them by $19 a month, taking the annual cost to $917, would bring in an additional $8 million for the 35,000-member union.

As the new school year starts in a few weeks, Caputo-Pearl said union leaders would begin conversations with members to explain the urgent need to increase revenue. Later in the year, he said, members would be asked to vote to approve the increase.

While the call for higher dues was new, the fragile state of UTLA finances has been well-known to union leadership. In a financial overview to members in May, the union treasurer, Arlene Inouye, wrote that the union has been operating at a deficit for seven of the last 10 years, partly due to a drop in membership of 10,000 members since 2007. In the last three years alone, she wrote, the union lost “more than $2.5 million.”

Caputo-Pearl said the dues increase was part of a broader strategy to build on UTLA’s successes of 2014-2015 in anticipation of events to come that could weaken overall union strength locally and nationally. He mentioned several looming trouble spots, including a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that is seeking to allow members of any union to stop paying that part of their dues used for political activity.

He also predicted that LA Unified will attempt to rollback UTLA health care benefits in 2017 and suggested to his audience that fighting back against such an effort might require a strike.

As he has in other public appearances, Caputo-Pearl built some of his arguments on the backs of familiar bogeymen, particularly his favorite, LA Unified’s former superintendent, John Deasy.

Early in the 40-minute address, Caputo-Pearl congratulated the members for efforts that “sent the most prominent corporate superintendent in the United States packing.”

Deasy resigned last October, largely as a result of the ill-fated iPad program, the not-ready-for-schooltime student tracking system and his own steely management style. It did not help him that UTLA leadership despised him and frequently rallied against him and the policies he championed. 

“Good bye, John Deasy; can I hear you say that?” Caputo-Pearl said with glee to the audience.

He expressed similar disdain for Eli Broad and John Arnold, billionaires who have funded education reform efforts that union leaders across the country say undermine the integrity of public education.

“Broad and Arnold, they’re the one percenters,” Caputo-Pearl said. “We have to stand for the rest of us.”

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