A few days ago I wrote about Gail Mendes, the former president of United Teachers of Richmond, who has been elected as secretary-treasurer of California Teachers Association in an unusual challenge to a sitting executive officer.
The reaction among many CTA members has been negative.
Apparently, many votes for Mendes were cast to "send a message" to the CTA bigwigs; these voters didn't think that Mendes would actually be elected. They expected incumbent Daniel Vaughn to keep his seat.
Christy Marquez commented on Intercepts, a fine blog about education politics:
"...[I]t was a complete shock when the results were announced that she won by a very small margin. In fact, when her name was announced, not a single person in the room applauded. Instead, many were fighting back tears of sadness and anger that such a thing could happen to such a good man who has devoted many years to the union. Everyone agrees that nothing personal was intended and that the outcome was a complete fluke. Unfortunately, not a lot can be done about it now. Gail is completely unqualified for the position and does not have the experience nor support to succeed. She will most likely be challenged in two years for the position of vice president, and hopefully will lose to a more qualified and well-liked candidate..."
Diane Brown, a UTR teacher who contributes to the excellent blog "Progressive Teachers," wrote:
Gail Mendes' tenure as President of UTR was counter to principles of union democracy. Rank and file and UTR board members' rights were trampled on (a UTR board member described her leadership at rep council as "fascistic").
During a UTR election a first time candidate was running for a position on the executive board. This candidate's name was left off the ballot. Mendes went to the candidate's school site unannounced and strongly suggested that the candidate withdraw from the race. Unsuspecting any foul play the candidate agreed.
Some UTR members wrote letters to then-Vice President David Sanchez about Mendes' undemocratic hostile leadership. A UTR member at Mendes school described her as "dangerous."
I filed a complaint with the Public Employees Relations Board (PERB) charging Mendes with these abuses of office. November 30, 2006, Mendes reported me to Rick Werlin, WCCUSD Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, demanding that he discipline me for an alleged contract violation. Mendes' action, asking a boss to punish a fellow teacher and an Association member would be universally reviled and condemned by any class conscious union member. I met with the UTR Executive Board and asked that she resign her position as President.
On another occasion Mendes interfered with members right to elect a site representative of their choice. She had the election overturned.
When CTA members learned Mendes had been elected Secretary-Treasurer, one member said, "It's time to get out." CTA members who decided to "send a message" and vote for Mendes, made a mistake that they will live to regret. The only way to correct this mistake is through a RECALL campaign. I would not wait two years.
Diane Brown, CTA Member
Another teacher backs up Diane Brown's statements:
"...[Gail Mendes] initiated a grievance against a UTR member with the District Superintendent, Rick Werlin. This is ratting out a fellow union member. A former WCCUSD school board member has described Mendes as “vindictive” and said that she cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars for second parcel tax vote..."
[Maura Larkins' note: Of course, not all teachers voted for Mendes by accident. CTA director Jim Groth from Chula Vista worked well with the very same Richard Werlin who palled around with Gail Mendes. I'll bet that Jim Groth was an enthusiastic supporter of Mendes. Clearly, some teachers truly believe that it's appropriate to get ahead in teacher union politics by trampling on teachers and students.]
[Maura Larkins' post script: A coincidence that makes this story more fascinating for me is that I attended kindergarten in Richmond schools (now known as WCCUSD) before returning to Chula Vista, where I went to 1st and 2nd grades in Chula Vista Elementary School District.]