Teaching Profession

Los Angeles Teachers Elect Hard-to-Define Union Leader

By Julie Blair — April 17, 2002 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

It was a nail-biter of a race in the nation’s second-largest school district, but in the end, Los Angeles teachers chose John Perez to lead their 41,000- member union in a runoff election that concluded last week.

John Perez

The 55-year-old former high school social studies teacher captured the presidency of United Teachers Los Angeles with 50.5 percent of the vote, nudging out former elementary teacher Becki Robinson, who won 49.5 percent, union officials reported. Only 10 percent of eligible members cast votes, a common participation rate for such elections, said Steve Blazak, a union spokesman.

No challenge to the results had been filed as of last week, he added.

Mr. Perez, who, like Ms. Robinson, currently serves as a vice president of the union, will take office July 1, replacing Day Higuchi. Mr. Higuchi, who has held the post for six years, was not permitted to run for re-election under union term limits.

The president-elect said last week that he would “make the classroom a number-one priority,” by advocating for teachers to have more say in administrative decisions. He also aims to increase teacher salaries, a responsibility that will likely fall to him if current contract negotiations with the 737,000-student district are not closed by summer.

“This district does not have competitive salaries,” Mr. Perez charged. “You can’t attract people and retain them.”

The average teacher salary in the Los Angeles Unified School District is about $46,000. The national average is $44,604, according to a report released this month by the National Education Association. (“Salary Stagnation?,” Teaching & Learning, this issue.)

District administrators did not return a phone call seeking comment on the election.

Some community leaders, however, said a change in union leadership was welcome.

Currently, union leaders and district officials “are off in different corners,” said Susan Way-Smith, the president and chief executive officer of the Los Angeles Educational Partnership, a nonprofit organization that collaborates with both management and labor to provide teachers with professional development.

“This election gives them the opportunity to sit back and start new relationships,” she said.

Progressive Reformer?

In the initial round of the election, held earlier this spring, Ms. Robinson drew more votes than Mr. Perez did. At that time, Ms. Robinson pulled in 32.6 percent of the vote, while Mr. Perez earned 25.3 percent. Two other candidates collected the remainder.

A majority is needed to win an elected post in the union, which is affiliated with both the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers.

Allegiances shifted, however, during the weeks prior to the runoff.

“I lost by 98 votes out of 10,000,” Ms. Robinson said. “It shows we have a divided union.”

Mr. Perez and Ms. Robinson were considered the most progressive of the four presidential candidates.

“I’d say [Mr. Perez] is viewed as an old-line unionist and is a bit more confrontational” than Ms. Robinson, said Joshua Pechthalt, a high school history teacher who was elected as a regional UTLA director. “Her approach was to temper labor-management animosity. People who voted for [Mr. Perez] believed that you have to be strong and go militant to the bargaining table.”

Some teachers perceived Ms. Robinson as supportive of what they considered to be regressive programs initiated by the district, Mr. Pechthalt said. Many saw her as an advocate for Open Court, a scripted reading program.

Ms. Robinson, however, said she never supported that specific curriculum. Instead, she said, she endorsed research-based programs. But she added that Open Court appeared to be “extremely beneficial to our students,” for the short time it has been in use.

While some union leaders around the country characterized Mr. Perez as a progressive reformer willing to take chances, others described him as an old-school union boss more interested in bread-and-butter labor issues.

Some have been impressed that Mr. Perez has backed two bills now in the California legislature that would broaden the kinds of issues that can be incorporated into teacher contracts.

If such legislation is enacted, California teachers’ unions would have the power to negotiate K-12 standards, assessments, and even dress codes, in addition to the more traditional matters of wages, hours, and benefits. (“Calif. Bill Would Allow Unions More Say on Academics,” March 6, 2002.)

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the April 17, 2002 edition of Education Week as Los Angeles Teachers Elect Hard-to-Define Union Leader

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Leadership in Education: Building Collaborative Teams and Driving Innovation
Learn strategies to build strong teams, foster innovation, & drive student success.
Content provided by Follett Learning
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Principals, Lead Stronger in the New School Year
Join this free virtual event for a deep dive on the skills and motivation you need to put your best foot forward in the new year.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Privacy & Security Webinar
Navigating Modern Data Protection & Privacy in Education
Explore the modern landscape of data loss prevention in education and learn actionable strategies to protect sensitive data.
Content provided by  Symantec & Carahsoft

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession The Truth About Teachers' Summers
Teachers endure many misperceptions about their jobs. Perhaps the most egregious has to do with their summer break.
5 min read
Orange sandals by a pool.
iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession In Their Own Words How This 'Goofy Science Teacher' Made It to the U.S. Open in Golf
High school science teacher and golf coach Colin Prater just played in one of the world's most prestigious golf tournaments.
6 min read
Colin Prater hits his tee shot on the 10th hole during a practice round for the U.S. Open golf tournament on June 12, 2024, in Pinehurst, N.C.
Colin Prater hits his tee shot on the 10th hole during a practice round for the U.S. Open golf tournament on June 12, 2024, in Pinehurst, N.C.
Frank Franklin II/AP
Teaching Profession Teachers: Start Your School Supplies Shopping Now With These Discounts
As teachers start back-to-school shopping, Education Week compiled a list of educator discounts that can reduce costs.
3 min read
Photo of school supplies.
iStock
Teaching Profession What Happened—and What Didn't—at This Year's NEA Representative Assembly
The unusual ending of the biggest assembly for the nation’s largest teachers’ union led to an incomplete annual meeting.
5 min read
Protestors gather outside of the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia on Wednesday, July 3, 2024, during the NEA Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly.
Protestors gather outside of the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia on Wednesday, July 3, 2024, during the NEA Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly.
Brooke Schultz/Education Week