Los Angeles Teachers Union: Who’s Running the Asylum?

A recent vote by the United Teachers of Los Angeles suggests that a radical faction is in charge, its president “leads from behind” and almost half its teachers don’t care.

At the beginning of April, the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) decided to put a hard-hitting initiative before its members.

…UTLA will begin a strategy of negotiations with the district on the collective bargaining agreement focusing on a set of issues that matter to teachers and communities, as opposed to the current strategy of opening negotiations around only one issue at a time. These demands should include:

  • Reduced class sizes
  • Full staffing of our schools
  • Restored funding of Adult and Early Childhood Education
  • Equity and access for all students
  • Safe and clean schools
  • Better pay for all school employees
  • Stop to excessive unnecessary student testing and VAM/AGT use
  • End reconstitution and school giveaways

Further, UTLA will allocate staff and other resources to organize this campaign. This could include steps like the creation of an organizing department and a research department. This reorganization will strengthen UTLA through member engagement and mobilization and will not negatively impact continued contract enforcement.

Finally, UTLA will plan a series of escalating actions, including preparing to strike if necessary, to fight for the demands of the campaign. The first action will take place before the end of the 2012-13 school year to protest issuance of layoff notices, further class size increases, and school destabilization.

To the union’s credit, it released “pro and con” statements on its website so that teachers could get a balanced view of the issues at hand.

At the same time, the union asked for a vote on the effectiveness of Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent John Deasy – except in this instance there was no “pro and con,” just pure, unadulterated vitriol. On the page announcing the vote, it posted:

Time and again, Superintendent Deasy makes decisions that short-change students for the benefit of his private agenda. That agenda is in lock-step with the national “corporate reform” movement (over-reliance on high-stakes tests, linking pay to unreliable test score formulations, blaming teacher seniority for management failures).

That’s why so many corporate reform billionaires across the country contributed to the recent School Board campaigns.

And then the union got really nasty. On a web page headed “‘Whoopsie Deasy’ Reasons to Vote NO!,”  it trashed Deasy and added crudely Photoshopped images of him for maximum effect. The union accused him of making more money than the governor. Okay, but so does the head of the California Teachers Association. The union accused him of putting out a “welcome mat” for the Parent Trigger – but so did UTLA president Warren Fletcher during the recent 24th Street School conversion. The union accused him of being “too cozy with billionaire outsiders who want to unfairly influence education policy in L.A” – but the union has no problem soliciting outside monies from state and national unions to support its agenda.

So where did Fletcher come down on the Deasy no-confidence vote? He declined to state!

Huh? After the UTLA website under his control skewered the superintendent, the union president is mum? That would be equivalent to the U.S. bombing a foreign country while the POTUS maintains neutrality. This raises disingenuous to a new level.

To be sure, the union’s rebellion didn’t start with Fletcher. It seems to have emanated from a radical UTLA faction called Professional Educators for Action (PEAC) – a bunch that would make Karl Marx and Bill Ayers proud. Its platform uses the term “social justice” (typically a code word for socialism) eight times. The group insists on “dramatic increases in funding to education” and favors progressive taxation, single payer healthcare, and free higher education for all.

PEAC’s hopes and dreams for a socialist future are spelled out quite clearly by Randy Childs, a teacher, union activist and proud member of the revolutionary International Socialist Organization. He is blunt in his criticisms, referring to Deasy as “underhanded” and suggesting that Fletcher is clueless.

There was a bit of pushback from Teachers for a New Unionism (TNU), a group dedicated to union reform. In LA School Report, teacher and TNU policy manager Mohammed Choudhury countered PEAC’s radicalism with more moderate ideas.

After teachers voted between April 2nd and 10th, the results were made public on April 11th.

DO YOU HAVE CONFIDENCE IN DEASY’S LEADERSHIP

YES              1,647        9%
 NO             16,040      91%

INITIATIVE FOR L.A. SCHOOLS

YES            13,242      77%
NO               3,905      23%

A couple of things to note:

  1. The teacher’s votes against Deasy are overwhelming, with over 9 in 10 giving him a no-confidence vote and over 3 in 4 insisting on more pushback to the district’s child-friendly reforms.
  2. Clearly the New Union crowd had very little or no effect on the results or the turnout, given that slightly more than half of the district’s 32,700 teachers voted.

Deasy sloughed off the vote and dismissed the referendum as nonsense, “even before learning of the results, saying he preferred to focus on helping students. The referendum has no binding effect on the district.”

As the union votes were being counted, Deasy received some good news – a strong vote of confidence from a consortium of civil rights groups collectively known as Communities for LA Student Success (CLASS). Barbara Jones in the LA Daily News writes,

The survey by CLASS – Communities for LA Student Success – was conducted in the wake of a divisive school board race that pitted the so-called reform movement against organized labor. It included a series of questions centered on some of the more controversial issues facing the district, such as transforming underperforming schools, evaluating teacher performance and increasing the number of charters and other nontraditional campuses.

… “Our goal is to figure out what the community wants,” Ryan Smith, the education policy director for the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, said during a press conference outside LAUSD headquarters. “By taking a poll of more than 100 community leaders and civil rights activists, we were able to see what their belief was for the priorities of the district.

“We’ve seen that many people are reaffirming many of the priorities the district has taken. And many of those priorities have been set by Superintendent John Deasy’s agenda.”

Where does all this leave Los Angeles?

It leaves America’s second biggest city with a teachers union driven by a powerful faction that has a radical agenda, a union president who seems to embrace the “lead from behind” strategy, a tenacious reform-minded superintendent who serves at the pleasure of a rather wobbly school board and a serious apathy problem affecting almost half its teachers.

School choice anyone?

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

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