Los Angeles teachers threw out most of their current union leadership Tuesday, electing as president a special education teacher and a slate of newcomers who campaigned on a social justice-centered agenda.
By more than 2,000 votes, teachers selected A.J. Duffy, a 35-year district veteran and longtime union activist, over incumbent President John Perez. About 11,300 teachers, or 27%, of the union's 41,000 members cast ballots.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday March 18, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 38 words Type of Material: Correction
UTLA leadership -- An article in the March 2 California section about the new leadership of United Teachers Los Angeles said Andrea Cobb was the UTLA representative at Palms Elementary School. In fact, Angela Cobb is the representative.
It was the first time in United Teachers Los Angeles' 35-year history that an incumbent president and his slate had been ousted.
"This is a really completely new look to UTLA," said Duffy, a special education teacher at Palms Middle School. "From the top down. We're all activists.... We're all organizers. We go to work with the community."
Duffy was supported by the new United Action slate, which pushed for what one incoming UTLA leader called "militant rank-and-file unionism." Among the slate's winners was David Goldberg, the nephew of former teacher and current Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg (D-Los Angeles), who heads the Assembly Education Committee.
"Our slate won every single race, top to bottom," said Joshua Pechthalt, the union's incoming vice president. "This is wholesale change in the union."
Perez -- who won election to the union's highest office in 2002 by fewer than 100 votes -- acknowledged that contract negotiations played a central role in his defeat. "I think people are upset over the fact that they haven't had a contract for 18 months," he said. "I think they want a more aggressive attitude toward LAUSD."
District leaders extended congratulations and conciliatory words toward the new leadership Tuesday. Schools Supt. Roy Romer said he looked forward to getting to know the UTLA leaders. "I'll do my best to work with them," he said. "I want to approach them with a positive attitude."
Over the last two years, Romer and Perez have increasingly butted heads as the union president repeatedly assailed what he called the district's "bureaucratic bloat." Behind the scenes, he pushed for union-friendly reforms, including the elimination of district-ordered classroom evaluations for teachers. And, under his leadership, the union succeeded in ousting two school board incumbents, Caprice Young and Genethia Hudley-Hayes, in the 2002 election.
Although acknowledging that Perez scored some successes, Duffy said Perez's three-year presidency had been characterized by much talk and little action.
As part of his campaign, Duffy distributed a 10-minute video to teachers touting his accomplishments as a local UTLA leader. He said he helped remove a dozen principals from leadership. Duffy also promised to return the union to the powerful stature it enjoyed in the late 1980s, when teachers struck for nine days, and to fight district bureaucracy and waste.
Current union leaders said the winners of Tuesday's election would be far more strident than they had been in battling the district's budget, fighting top-down mandates, and dealing with the fallout from the federal No Child Left Behind law. They questioned whether the United Action slate had the leadership skills that tough negotiations with the district would require.
But teachers who supported Duffy said they blamed the current union leadership for an 18-month delay in negotiations over a new contract.
Romer recently offered teachers a 1.5% raise; Perez countered that teachers should get at least 2%. Duffy, in campaign materials, told teachers that, because of cost-of-living increases, "any pay raise less than 7% means a pay cut."
Andrea Cobb, the UTLA representative and a second-grade teacher at Palms Elementary School, said she supported Duffy in part because "you can only walk around the school district so many times.... Duffy, in my opinion, has the leadership quality that he won't just talk. He will actually follow through.... We've done a lot of talking."
Teachers, Pechthalt said, look to contracts first. "If you can deliver a good contract, you can keep the support of the membership. Perez has not been able to do that," he said.
After 36 years in the district, Perez, who is 58, said he plans to retire when he leaves office July 1. "I truly love this union and this profession. I wish the new officers all of the good luck they will need in dealing with the district."
But before he goes, he said, he hopes to leave teachers with a new contract.
Times staff writer Duke Helfand contributed to this report.