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Teachers union hiring 6 in ‘groundbreaking’ plan to organize

Craig Clough | September 23, 2014

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Alex Caputo-Pearl at a news conference teachers union

Alex Caputo-Pearl, President of UTLA

During his first State of the Union speech at the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) leadership conference last week, President Alex Caputo-Pearl promised that the union was “gearing up for this fight” as he works to negotiate a new contract with LA Unified.

Near the end of his remarks, as if to prove he wasn’t just talking tough, he announced that UTLA is hiring six new people in leadership positions as part of an internal restructuring made possible through a cost-sharing agreement with state and national teachers unions.

Caputo-Pearl described the cost-sharing agreement as “groundbreaking.” The organizations participating in the agreement are the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the National Education Association (NEA), the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) and the California Teachers Association (CTA).

“We went to our state and national affiliates…and we said to them that everything is affected by what happens in LA across the state, across the country,” Caputo-Pearl said at the conference. “We asked them because of this, our affiliates invest in UTLA and invest in our strategic vision. To invest to help us organize to win key things for our schools, educators and communities, to shape the national debate and to move forward a conversation about UTLA’s long-term stability.”

Caputo-Pearl said UTLA has already hired four people as part of the new agreement and is looking soon to hire a political director and a strategic researcher. The four recent hires are Jeff Good as Executive Director, Brian McNamara as Field Director, Esperanza Martinez, as a community organizer, and Sharon Delugach, who works directly for AFT as a parent coordinator but will now be dedicating three quarters of her time to working with UTLA, according to Caputo-Pearl.

The groups are “providing money and resources to get the union up to speed with internal organization to make it a true 21st century teachers union,” Josh Pechthalt, president of CFT, told LA School Report. “It’s focused on the union being more effective internally, which is part of what any union organizing work does externally.”

The announcement of the new hires was part of a seven-point action plan Caputo-Pearl outlined in his speech aimed at reorganizing the union and moving in a new direction.

“We are in a deep hole, and others have been digging that hole for us for a long time,” he said. “We are not going to turn this around overnight, and we are not going to win every battle, but we’ve turned the ship in the right direction now. We are going to organize and build the power we need to win.”

The underlying threat of a strike was sprinkled throughout the speech and the entire conference, as other invited speakers included former UTLA President Wayne Johnson, who led a successful walkout in 1989, St. Paul Federation of Teachers President Mary Cathryn Ricker, who led her union to the brink of a strike earlier this year when negotiating a new contract, and Portland Teachers Association President Gwen Sullivan, who also led her union to the brink of a strike this year.

In keeping with the theme, Caputo-Pearl touted McNamara’s strike credentials during his speech. McNamara has previously been an organizer for the National Union of Health Care Workers.

McNamara “has been an organizing director at one the premier organizing unions in the country for the last several years, having helped unions organize to the point of a strike, having helped unions organize strikes, and having helped unions organize toward numerous contract victories along the way,” Caputo-Pearl said.

When contacted by LA School Report, McNamara referred questions about his UTLA role to Caputo-Pearl, who did not return a message seeking comment. Nor did Good return phone calls inquiring about the role he would play with UTLA.

Another key part of Caputo-Pearl’s action plan included identifying and training a new parent-community coordinator at every LA Unified school to help support the Schools LA Students Deserve campaign.

Other points included getting rank-and-file union members more involved in political action campaigns, reconnecting with members though a comprehensive survey of their desired needs, “unapologetically” challenging LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy on a long list of grievances and fighting for a broad package in contract negotiations.

Caputo-Pearl’s full State of the Union speech is here.


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