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‘Union Power’ wins big but most UTLA members didn’t vote*

Vanessa Romo | March 21, 2014

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UITLA's election drew only 23 percent of the membership

UITLA’s election drew only 23 percent of the membership

UTLA is headed in a new direction —  mostly veering to the left.

Despite a low turnout, Union Power candidates claimed victory today, with wins in nearly every leadership position within UTLA, the nation’s second-largest teachers union.

The progressive group — which plans to call for a strike if a new teacher contract can’t be negotiated soon — won outright in races for NEA Affiliate vice president, AFT Affiliate vice president, Elementary VP, Secondary VP, Treasurer, and Secretary. The race for President will be decided in a run-off pitting Union Power leader, Alex Caputo-Pearl, against incumbent Warren Fletcher.

“This shows that our members want UTLA to pro-actively and assertively fight against the attacks on the profession, while fighting for a clear vision of quality schools that we build through aggressive organizing with members, parents, and community,” Caputo-Pearl said in a statement.

Although he fell short of getting 51 percent of votes in the first round, Caputo-Pearl says he’s confident he’ll come out on top in the end.

“The organizing that led to these successes today,” he said, “will propel us to victory in the fight for a pay increase, for class size reduction and increases in staffing, against teacher jail, and around all of the other issues that are critical in public education today.”

Fletcher received fewer than half the votes Caputo-Pearl captured. He responded to the news in a statement, saying, “The results of the first round of the UTLA election were fairly unambiguous. The voting membership has decisively signaled the desire for a change in direction. To assert otherwise would be to deny an obvious reality.”

“I am confident that UTLA, whether under Mr. Caputo-Pearl’s leadership or mine, will move forward into the next three years with the common goal of fighting for what is best for students, for schools, and for the classroom,” he added.

John Lee, Senior Executive Director of Teach Plus in Los Angeles, told LA School Report that Union Power “was clearly the best organized among the different groups,” evidenced by their ability to get the endorsement of more than 250 UTLA chapter chairs. But Lee says the group’s sweep is far from a mandate on anything, given the total number of ballots cast. Only about 23 percent of UTLA’s 31,552 members participated in the election. And even Arlene Inouye, the incumbent treasurer who had the most votes (4,231) in her race, received only 13.5 percent of the total votes cast.

“When you’re talking about only only a quarter of members voting, that tells us that the majority of UTLA members aren’t engaged,” Lee said. “That means you have this vocal minority who are setting the direction for the union.”

Several Teach Plus fellows launched a petition initiative to increase UTLA member participation by allowing online voting but the endeavor is on hold until after the elections.

Gregg Solkovits came in third in the run for president, ending his bid for the position once held by his mother.

“Whoever is the next UTLA president is going to have to face the dilemma that unless you get UTLA well organized and ready to fight, then UTLA becomes increasingly powerless,” he told LA School Report.

Throughout his campaign Solkovits, like Caputo-Pearl, said the union has failed exert any strength over Superintendent John Deasy or the school board in negotiating a new teacher contract. The last contract expired two-years ago, leaving teachers and the district to operate under a temporary contract.

“My plan also was that we make sure that every school has a chapter chair then the union would have the ability to threaten a strike, Solkovits said. “A union that can’t threaten a strike is basically at the mercy of management.”

And that’s not a Union Power idea, he said, “that’s basically Union 101.”

*Clarifies Teach Plus involvement in election process.

Previous Posts: Misunderstood election rules cause friction among UTLA candidatesTensions rise among UTLA candidates, take on issues and each otherAt a UTLA candidate forum, issues break out within the mudslinging.

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