JUST IN: Feds consider complaint over UTLA handling of strike fund
Mike Szymanski | September 15, 2015
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A federal agency is looking into a complaint that United Teachers of Los Angeles misused money from the union’s $3 million strike fund.
An Aug. 12 letter from the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General said the complaint and supporting documents went to the Racketeering and Fraud Investigations for review. An official from the department confirmed to LA School Report that department is investigating accusations from Neil Chertcoff, a retired LAUSD teacher who still attends the union meetings.
The labor department said once the review was completed it would determine “the most appropriate course of action.”
“A lot of teachers would like to know what is happening with their dues money, and we have been asking about this for a long time,” said Chertcoff, who is involved with about a dozen teachers calling themselves the “UTLA Accountability Working Group.” “The money that was taken out of the strike fund should be returned to its proper place, or at least be accounted for properly. We have been frustrated, so we are going to the district attorney, Department of Labor, attorney general and wherever else we can go to finally get answers.”
The complaint arose out of a decision last year by the union’s board of directors to move money into a strike fund. At the time, the teachers were seeking a new labor contract with LA Unified and were preparing for the possibility of a strike.
The motion read: “We move that up to $3 million be moved from the Strike Fund to the General Operating Budget for specific organizing activities to build strike readiness. It is estimated to cost over $3 million dollars for a strike preparation that includes rebuilding our data systems, rallies, special meetings, printing, attorney fees, town hall meetings, robo-calls and phone banking, strike training and release time.”
The motion was brought to the UTLA House of Representatives on Jan. 14 of this year had passed by a near unanimous vote.
One of three people who spoke against the motion was Huntington Park Elementary School teacher Rick Abreu, who has been a House member for six years and represents a cluster of about 10 schools. “It was a red flag for me,” Abreu said, when he heard that the money wouldn’t be returned to the strike fund. “Everyone jumped on the bandwagon, and they steamrollered it. I asked for an accounting and how much was spent and sent registered letters but heard nothing.”
UTLA Executive Director Jeff Good told LA School Report that he has heard of no investigation from any group, including any federal agency. Beyond that, he said, “We voted to use up to $3 million but only $1 million was moved out. We have used $400,000, and we will account for that.”
Good said that at the regularly scheduled House of Representative meeting tomorrow union leaders will account for the money that was spent for strike readiness. He also said that the remainder of the $1 million that has yet to be spent could be returned to the strike fund.
“This decision was not done lightheartedly, but it was overwhelmingly approved,” Good added. “It was done through a democratic decision by the members of the union and the vote wasn’t even close.”
The vote was 212 in favor of taking out up to $3 million and 13 against, Good said. The costs spent so far included things like $26,000 for a downtown teachers rally in March, database costs of $60,000, money for food, temp workers, mailings and other office expenses specifically for strike preparedness.
“We are organizing for strike readiness at all times,” Good said. “We are always building for a strike readiness, training our members, and that was what this money was approved for.”
Chertcoff and other teachers said because the money went from the Restricted Investment Strike Fund to the Unrestricted Operating Cash, they were concerned the money isn’t being spent properly.
“There seems to be a very possible misuse of funds by UTLA leaders,” said Chertcoff, who has not received any update or further contact with the labor department. “Any use of these funds in other than what is on the original motion would surely be constituted as illegal.”
Union representatives said they hope to answer all questions at tomorrow’s meeting.
“With 35,000 members, you will always have someone disagreeing with you,” Good said.