Monday, January 03, 2011

Villaraigosa's school reform efforts cost him little labor backing

Villaraigosa isn't backing down one inch – and it's great to see other unions standing by him and that this has been a BIG political win for him so far:


A mayor with deep roots in the labor movement now finds himself denounced in some quarters as a turncoat — a description he calls absurd.

"No one buys that turncoat stuff," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said the other day at a union-sponsored event in Watts. "But I am challenging orthodoxies in a way that we have to."

The mayor's recent branding of United Teachers Los Angeles, the L.A. teachers union, as "one unwavering roadblock" to his effort to reform public schools has raised ire in organized labor circles, even though he began his political career as a union organizer.

But the criticism from unions that don't represent teachers has been relatively muted: Labor leaders from outside the very specific universe of schools seem to have little difficulty separating the mayor's comments on the incendiary education debate from his overwhelmingly pro-labor pedigree.

…The mayor, who has long made school reform one of his signature issues, seems steeled for a protracted fight. For March's school board elections, Villaraigosa is expected to back a slate of candidates to challenge union-backed contenders. The outcome could help define his mayoralty as he nears being termed out of office in 2013.

In an era of widespread fiscal austerity and alarm about bloated public payrolls and pensions, the mayor's provocative proclamation about the teachers union has also won him considerable praise.

A rising chorus of critics nationwide has been calling on lawmakers — especially traditionally pro-labor Democrats — to stand up to powerful public sector unions, be they in schools, police departments, city halls or elsewhere. The mayor joins President Obama as Democratic lawmakers who have been accused of vilifying teachers in the name of reform.

"This puts Villaraigosa closer to Obama than to the teachers union," said Raphael J. Sonenshein, a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton. "This is really a battle about control of the school district."

Villaraigosa's Dec. 7 assault on the teachers union during a speech to state leaders in Sacramento was calibrated for maximum effect. In a subsequent interview, the mayor said he hoped his comments would "be a catalyst for transformational change."

So far, Villaraigosa seems pleased with the fallout — and with the fact that the flare-up has again shone the light on a chief executive whom some saw as lurching toward premature lame-duck status.


Villaraigosa's school reform efforts cost him little labor backing

As he takes on United Teachers Los Angeles, he retains much support so far from other unions, which see a basic difference in the issues.


December 26, 2010,0,2693864.story

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