Misunderstood election rules upsetting UTLA candidates
Vanessa Romo | February 27, 2014
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Recent campaign appearances by Alex Caputo-Pearl at schools around LA Unified have ignited a dispute among candidates for UTLA offices who say election rules — such as they are — are being applied unfairly. The conflict has also brought into focus how misunderstood the rules seem to be.
The source of the infighting is what some candidates perceive as their right to campaign at school campuses during working hours.
The conflict arose last week after Caputo-Pearl, leader of the Union Power slate and one of the perceived front runners for UTLA president in unseating incumbent Warren Fletcher, said his principal at Frida Kahlo High School had granted him about 12 days of unpaid personal leave to visit 30 schools to campaign teachers to vote for him.
That prompted several of his opponents to raise the possibility that his actions were illegal by district election rules. They were, according to Leticia Figueroa, LA Unified’s director of employee performance accountability, who said a school principal has no say in the decision.
She told LA School Report that permission can only be granted by the district Human Resources department and “the employee did not follow district procedures in obtaining appropriate permission for an unpaid leave.”
“There is no paperwork on file with the district’s HR department,” she said. The “paperwork” is a district form that must be completed in requesting an unpaid leave. It lists 15 possible reasons, and none is for election campaigning although one is vague enough to provide a rationale for it — “Personal Leave, not for family illness.”
For its part, UTLA officials say that by union campaign rules Caputo-Pearl’s has done nothing wrong. The union’s labor agreement with the district lists seven reasons for unpaid leave, but none explicitly covers union campaigning.
In any event, the district put a stop to Caputo-Pearl’s school day campaigning.
At the presidential forum last week, where the issue was first made public, Caputo-Pearl defended his school site visits.
“It’s a way to level the playing field [with Fletcher] who is allowed to be out there, talking to teachers everyday,” he said in an interview with LA School Report.
He also said he made all necessary provisions to ensure his students would not be affected. Caputo-Pearl said the district has no right to prevent him from stumping.
“Classroom teachers and health and human service workers are incensed that the District has attacked my contractual and legal right to take unpaid personal leave,” he told LA School Report. “When that is taken away by the District – this is classic management interference in a union election, and a glaring unfair labor practice, which we are pursuing filing.”
Over the last few days, candidates have been raising questions to each other, union officials and the district about what the rules are and how they should be applied — under an apparent false assumption that the candidate’s principal can grant the leave.
Some are are demanding that the union election committee step in and disqualify Caputo-Pearl and other members of the Union Power slate who may have also campaigned during school hours.
And this is what has some candidates up in arms, the idea that if left to the discretion of an administrator, campaigning rules could be applied unevenly, impacting the outcome of a race.
As an example, Laura McCutcheon, a candidate for UTLA treasurer, heard about Caputo-Pearl’s lunch-time meetings with teachers and sought to do the same, according to a collection of emails sent to LA School Report, bearing the the names of UTLA candidates. But her request was apparently turned down by her school principal, according to her email.
It was McCutcheon who first alerted the UTLA elections committee about the apparent irregularities of the policy, setting off a chain of finger pointing and charges of discrimination. A union official confirmed the authenticity of her email.
In her email, McCutcheon referred to LA Unified’s downtown headquarters in messages to several other candidates: “Well, Beaudry deferred to my principal who defers to Beaudry who said no but said up to principal who will put nothing in writing but will not sign my [request]. Uhm.”
Figueroa said McCutcheon’s understanding of the process was incorrect.
The same collection of emails included messages that appear to have been sent by presidential candidate Marcos Ortega II and David Garcia to union officials, each expressing their displeasure over Caputo-Pearl’s actions and threatening to file complaints against the union.
But efforts to reach both of them to confirm the authenticity of the emails were unsuccessful.