L.A. teachers union race heads to runoff for top position

L.A. teachers union race heads to runoff for top position
Warren Fletcher, right, is president of United Teachers Los Angeles, though he gained less than a quarter of the votes needed to secure a second term. Above, he speaks during a candidates forum in Boyle Heights. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

The contest to head the nation's second-largest teachers union will go to a second round, pitting challenger Alex Caputo-Pearl against incumbent Warren Fletcher, who finished a distant second in the initial race, according to results released Thursday.

Caputo-Pearl, 45, received 48% of the votes and Fletcher 21%.


In the vote-by-mail election, 7,158 members of United Teachers Los Angeles returned ballots, about 23% of those eligible to vote. Fewer than one in four voters supported the one-term incumbent.

It's unclear whether teachers were personally displeased with Fletcher or were expressing overall discontent with the union or their jobs.

"There was general dissatisfaction," said Gregg Solkovits, a UTLA vice president who finished third. "For better or worse, when you're the incumbent, you get blamed for that."

Ten candidates vied to lead UTLA, a 31,552-member teacher corps that is substantially dispirited and divided, with common grievances but no clear consensus on how to move forward.

Three years ago, Fletcher rode such a wave of discontent to defeat a candidate viewed as the favorite of the union establishment.

This time, it was Caputo-Pearl and his "Union Power" slate, which won citywide union positions outright by claiming more than 50% of the vote. His winning team included three incumbents who deserted Fletcher: vice presidents Betty Forrester and Juan Ramirez, and treasurer Arlene Inouye.

Two incumbents were not on Caputo-Pearl's slate. They lost.

"This shows that our members want UTLA to proactively 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," he said.

Caputo-Pearl captured the endorsement of 250 campus union representatives.

Fletcher, 54, had no immediate comment, but he has reminded teachers that since he became president, teacher layoffs and furlough days have ended — a success his critics attribute to improving revenue. Fletcher also insisted he made no major concessions to L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy on critical issues.

Fletcher is seeking a second and final term for a 3-year position that pays $101,000 annually. The ballots were mailed out in late February.

The union president speaks for the membership publicly, sets priorities and helps negotiate contracts.

The next round of voting will take place in April.
Twitter: @howardblume