Are UTLA and Its Members in a Failing Marriage?

Dear Leadership of United Teachers of Los Angeles:

It’s time for The Talk. I think we need to discuss the items on our relationship agenda to figure out where all of this is going.

Your Membership

You know a family is dysfunctional when its members malign and belittle each other in public. But you know it’s coming to the bitter end when communication sours into silence. UTLA needs to have The Talk before it reaches that point.

Dysfunction in UTLA

It pains me to be critical of our internal processes just at a time when we teachers need unified strength to negotiate a desperately overdue salary adjustment. However, at the January UTLA House of Representatives meeting, here is what I saw:

  • The president didn’t take the podium until almost twenty minutes past the scheduled start.
  • Once President Fletcher got to the mic, three members of the leadership team stood up and walked right off the stage.
  • We barely had a quorum to begin with, apparently because the teachers serving within the HoR have become so discouraged they no longer show up.
  • Speakers grandstanded, scoffed, and electioneered from every available microphone.
  • The agenda listed 135 items. Think about it, that’s just over one minute per item, if you start the three-hour meeting on time. That’s not even enough time to answer that many multiple-choice questions, much less read, discuss, and vote!
  • Unsurprisingly, a 17.6% salary increase received unanimous support, but then was subject to so many arguments and sub-motions that the whole proposal as a package was left unfinished.

The chaotic and disrespectful conduct of our union leadership effectively filibusters genuine communication. And this same leadership has been giving members the runaround for years.

Unlike in our classrooms, we cannot send them to the dean, make a call home to their mothers, or arrange a meeting with their counselors. Maybe it’s time for the membership to take the reins themselves.

A Meaningful Agenda

We can start with this ridiculous agenda.

Most membership-initiated motions take more than a year just to get on the agenda in the first place. The majority languish and die there before they see a vote.

We should spend dedicated additional time clearing the agenda items before they sour and spoil — pulled because they are past their expiration date.

Here’s an idea:

  • Add more meetings so that members of the House of Representatives can adequately discuss and vote on existing motions until we have a timely and realistic agenda.

In fact, I proposed a motion that UTLA’s House of Representatives hold special meetings specifically dedicated to clearing the agenda of motions more than three months old. Of course, at this rate, even if the motion makes it past various committees and onto the agenda, it probably won’t see the light of day for another year.

Here’s another idea:

Let’s find a more efficient, technology-based voting system that would work within the meetings to quickly tally votes.

Many meetings are consumed by “dead air” time, while votes are being counted. We should respect the time and work of the teachers who are giving their personal time to to make school life better! An efficient voting process is essential.

Let’s Have The Talk Before It’s Too Late

Teachers should not be getting the silent treatment from union leadership.

It is bad enough that LAUSD rarely asks for teacher input on policies that affect our students and our professional life day in, day out. It is beyond exasperating for it to happen in our union.

Showing 6 reactions

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  • Mark F.
    commented 2015-01-04 10:06:15 -0800
    I have an idea which is the platform of my campaign for my postal local in Detroit. It is simple. Change from in person meetings to online meetings in the shape of a forum. You conduct 95% of union business online. The meeting would go on 24/7/365. Every member now has a voice. Many members are watching for good ideas, not foolish rants. Discuss ides first. The ideas become motions, just like being at a meeting without the bravado. Critical thinking and knowledge of the collective barg agreement will be crucial to support an argument. For example, once a motion is seconded, give 2 weeks for discussion, one week for final review, then a vote. Many motions can be argued simultaneously. Most importantly, members will quickly become actively engaged and that is what unions are all about. My current union leadership loves things the way they are with only 5% showing up for meetings.
  • Amy Leserman
    commented 2014-02-16 13:29:09 -0800
    Some say time is money, but I say time is life. We must show respect for our union’s membership by starting UTLA’s meetings on time, honoring electoral responsibilities, and facilitating fast and accurate voting. And that’s just to start!
  • Lincoln Utla
    commented 2014-02-16 09:12:42 -0800
    Hi amy,
    Great article. Did you know that the second step of our “technologize the union” plan was to add clicker or electronic voting to HOR? I completely agree with every point you made about the horrid meetings and the lack of effective management and leadership. Thank you for uncovering this! Another idea would be to record and broadcast the meetings- if for nothing less than to hold everyone accountable for their behavior. Anyways, terrific ideas. Thank you for posting and for being such an active member of the union- I look forward to working with you in the future!
  • Amy Leserman
    commented 2014-02-10 22:52:12 -0800
    Lisa — I admit I’ have imagined those phone calls! “Your son/daughter shows incredible progress, and we really appreciate his/her unique talents. That said, we have some concerns we would like to share …”

    IBB sounds like a great way to start the ball rolling on culture change within and between the organizations.
  • Lisa Alva
    commented 2014-02-10 21:49:42 -0800
    Amy! Let’s call their moms! And let’s also remember that the school board behaves this way too. I was there a few weeks ago with a petition to support good induction programs and PD for homegrown teachers and to my dismay, beheld John Deasy rolling eyes and engaging in theatrics I really thought were below him. We need a new set of rules altogether. Have you looked at Interest-Based Bargaining?
  • Amy Leserman
    published this page in Blog 2014-02-04 22:52:37 -0800
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