Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa went from organizing teachers to fighting with their unions as part of his bid to improve low-performing schools.
Now, as the former Los Angeles mayor campaigns for California governor, labor unions will be among the most vocal and monied constituencies of the Democratic Party to weigh in on the 2018 race.
Below is a rundown of where things stand, according to some of the state’s top labor officials.
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Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer and chief officer of the California Labor Federation:
“I think we’re going to have an opportunity to talk to all the candidates as an executive council of the federation,” Pulaski said. “And that executive council will ask tough questions of all those candidates before making a judgment based on the candidates’ experience, what they’ve done in the past and what they plan to do in the future.”
“The education unions will have a lot of questions for Antonio. They have some concerns about where he has been and where he is going. I think inevitably when we sit down together we open our minds to each others’ issues and concerns. So I think naturally others will share issues – of the education unions, but also of the construction unions, the public sector unions and the manufacturing unions.”
Laphonza Butler, president of the California SEIU State Council:
SEIU California is encouraging candidates for governor to “walk a day in the shoes of our members,” complete a questionnaire and engage in a town hall interview with members across the state.
“When you are in public office or active in the community for as long as (Villaraigosa) has been, of course people will have different experiences,” Butler said. “What we are focused on now is which candidate can best articulate a vision for improving the lives of Californians.”
Robbie Hunter, president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California:
Hunter said he doesn’t think the building trades will endorse in the governor’s race ahead of the June primary.
“Our trades have already started to divide. The operating engineers went for (state Treasurer) John Chiang. The laborers, at least in the north, went for (Lt. Gov.) Gavin Newsom, and the IBEW and other trades, the UA (plumbing and pipe fitting), are looking very hard at Villaraigosa. and they all have their different relationships with those guys.”
Hunter, who worked with Villaraigosa to pass 2008’s Measure R in Los Angeles, a half-cent sales tax hike to pay for transportation projects and improvements, described the former mayor as a “very hard worker.”
In terms of his focus on underrepresented communities, “You get politicians that will speak in the open and say ‘I want you to fix this.’ Behind closed doors, he was more ferocious about that than he was in public. ‘We need to help kids in Boyle Heights. We need to help kids in Compton and Watts ... What are you going to do to help that?’” Hunter said, recalling talks with Villaraigosa.
Josh Pechthalt, president, California Federation of Teachers:
“To look a little more closely at his perspective. I think he feels like he’s become an advocate for students of color and that the education unions are wrong about these positions and that he has deeper loyalty – and that’s to the kids,” Pechthalt said. “I think he’s wrong. The biggest force advocating for kids are the education unions – whether it’s class-size reduction in K-3, more money for schools, this stuff doesn’t happen unless education unions are leading the fight ... It’s very disappointing to me to see how he devolved.”
Alex Caputo-Pearl, president, United Teachers Los Angeles:
“Early in his term he aligned himself with billionaires like Eli Broad with no educational experience who funded schools that don’t serve all students,” Caputo-Pearl said. “Villaraigosa is a very unpopular figure among teachers, and his legacy is that he pushed efforts to privatize public schools and in doing so attacked teachers and maligned the unions that teachers belonged to.”
Eric C. Heins, president of the California Teachers Association:
Heins declined comment on Villaraigosa. Claudia Briggs, a spokeswoman for the teachers union said: “CTA has a member-driven recommendation process and as a matter of policy doesn’t comment until they have made a recommendation.” CTA’s top policy-making body, the State Council of Education, meets October 20-22 in Los Angeles for a possible endorsement vote.
María Elena Durazo, general vice president for the hotel and hospitality union Unite Here and former executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor:
“When he was (Assembly) speaker I don’t recall any time that he took an anti-labor position. Our union was on the brink of a citywide strike-lockout and before he even got sworn in (as mayor of Los Angeles) he got all these employees into rooms and did all-nighters for a couple days until we reached an agreement. He pressured both sides on what would be a fair agreement.”
“He’s also had moments of difficulty with the teachers union around issues of (the Los Angeles Unified School District), but he himself – all the schools that he championed, the partnership schools – he always had those schools make sure that they were represented by UTLA. He had union contracts ... He is very passionate about making sure public education responds to poor kids and kids of color. Latino kids. He’s had his differences of opinion with the teachers union, but I would say the entire time that I’ve known him he has never taken an anti-union position.”