AB5 Author and Teamster Lorena Gonzalez Used CA Assembly Resources to "Encourage" Charter Schools to Go Union

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

 

Earlier today we reported the news that a California appellate judge granted Uber and Lyft’s motion to stay enforcement of a preliminary injunction that would have forced them to immediately reclassify their drivers as employees instead of independent contractors, as California’s new anti-independent contractor law, AB5, requires. The injunction is stayed pending the outcome of an October 13 hearing and of Proposition 22, a ballot initiative that proposes to exempt app-based companies from AB5.

If history is any indication, Uber, Lyft, and other app-based companies need to be on the lookout for any efforts by AB5 author Asm. Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher (D-Teamster), to use the influence and resources of her office to bully them into submission. Gonzalez-Fletcher has, on at least two occasions, used her office to “encourage” charter schools to allow unionizing efforts and votes on campus, making veiled threats at the same time.

Soon after the stay in the Uber/Lyft case was announced, Gonzalez-Fletcher was all over Twitter excoriating the rideshare pioneers – and still asserting that her bill was about protecting workers and not boosting union membership rolls.

Californians affected by AB5 were quick to reply, pointing out that Gonzalez-Fletcher’s efforts weren’t about protecting low-wage workers from exploitation but instead were about growing union membership rolls.

Gonzalez-Fletcher denied ever saying she was in favor of forced unionization, but reiterated her belief that they should.

But Gonzalez-Fletcher had tweeted during the #AB5 debates, “It means we get AB5 – then we organize workers into a union,” and she was reminded of that.

 

Gonzalez-Fletcher replied, “Do you know how workers get a union? They vote to unionize. It’s their choice. They can’t do that as contractors.”

Oh, really? Just how grassroots are unionization efforts in California? It turns out that Gonzalez-Fletcher has used the power of her office to “encourage” charter schools to support unionization of their teachers.

In 2013 an admittedly small group of teachers working for California Virtual Academies (CAVA), a consortium of charter schools that utilize the K-12.com online curriculum, wanted to unionize. They didn’t feel they were getting paid enough. (Apparently they didn’t realize that they could just refuse to work for a certain amount.) They reached out to California Teachers Association staff in Sacramento, who apparently put them in touch with Gonzalez-Fletcher, who was then a freshman legislator who’d left her job as head of the Teamsters in San Diego for elected office.

In August 2014, Gonzalez-Fletcher called CAVA offices to lend her “encouragement” for unionization efforts.

In the voicemail she makes clear that she’s a powerful woman and, being on the Education Committee, has the power to take actions that harm CAVA’s ability to operate. Gonzalez-Fletcher says:

Hi Katrina. My name is Lorena Gonzalez. I’m an Assemblywoman from the 80th Assembly District, and I’m a member of the education committee from the State of California Assembly. And I am calling because I had the teachers reach out to me from your – your school, and I know that they’re in the process and have been certified by PERB as having majority recognition for their union and I know they’d like to start a process of org – of bargaining, and so I’m calling to encourage you to do that.

You know, I – there’s a lot of, I think, back and forth that’s gone on, and obviously what we’d like to see from the state perspective, what I’d like to see, is that there is a process that supports a speedy resolution and that you don’t use legal maneuvers or union-busting tactics to delay the process. So, I really appreciate your help in that. If you have any questions or if there is any questions that you – that you think that I need answers, you can give me a call back here in my office in Sacramento.

Nothing shady there at all, right? We have a sitting Assemblywoman, who serves on the Education Committee, calling from her office in Sacramento – using taxpayer resources – to basically threaten a charter school administrator.

Then there’s the case of Gompers Preparatory Academy in San Diego. In the early 2000s the school was known as Gompers Middle School and was part of the San Diego Unified School District. The school, which is located in a neighborhood that’s home to more than 50 gangs, had so much on-campus gang violence that the district installed chain-link fencing throughout the campus corridors so they could close gates if fights broke out to “isolate the behavior.” Unsurprisingly, the school had a 75 percent attrition rate among teachers and was known as one of the most dangerous and low-performing schools in the city.

After No Child Left Behind was passed the community fought to allow the school to attain charter status, which they did in 2005 despite a vicious battle with the San Diego Education Association and the district. The school’s turnaround – and the battle with the union – was documented in this PBS clip:

In 2012 a high school was added to Gompers’ campus so those middle school students who were succeeding had a safe, high-quality school in which to continue their education.

If success can be measured in a 100 percent graduation rate and college acceptance numbers, Gompers Prep as a charter has been a success. All seniors in the 2020 graduating class were accepted into college, including 75 out of 133 into four-year colleges, while the remaining 58 were accepted into two-year colleges.

Despite this turnaround and the ray of hope to parents and students in a disadvantaged neighborhood, SDEA couldn’t let their animosity go – and eventually got back on the campus.

[T]he union installed itself in January 2019 after conducting a controversial “card check” drive, bypassing the more reliable method of a secret-ballot election whether to certify a union as the monopoly representative of all educators in the school.

Alleging that teachers were misled about what they were signing during the union organization drive, in November 2019 one teacher obtained enough signatures on a decertification petition to trigger California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB)-supervised secret ballot vote to remove the union. (A similar situation involving Gonzalez-Fletcher and California farmworkers is also unfolding; read more here.)

That did not go over well with Asm. Gonzalez-Fletcher, who routinely votes against charter schools in the legislature despite the fact that her son and stepsons attend a top-flight charter school outside her own district.

On March 2, 2020, after learning that the Gompers teacher responsible for the decertification petition had obtained assistance from the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Gonzalez-Fletcher sent a letter to Gompers officials on her Assembly letterhead to express her concern about alleged “unfair labor practices” on campus.

CREDIT: Screenshot, Gompers Preparatory Academy

She wrote, in part:

Organizing an employees’ union and negotiating a fair contract are effective avenues for educators to effectively and efficiently advocate, not only for themselves and their families, but for their students. It is our expectation that those rights be respected and that all parties act in good faith.

Additionally, I have been made aware of the role the National Right to Work Foundation is playing in your school community. Please understand that this organization has historically taken actions that actually disenfranchise workers. This time can and should only strengthen relations between GPA’s leadership and its educators. Any discouraging, disempowering acts and language during these processes would serve as evidence of lack of compassion adn care for the wellbeing of GPA’s educators and the inevitable domino effect on student success.

I urge you to do the right thing. Stand with your hardworking educators and shun any derision, especially that which stems from divisive organizations, like National Right to Work.

Oh, wow. Unlike the derision on display by Gonzalez-Fletcher in this very article? She ended with:

“I will continue to watch this issue at GPA closely.”

We’re sure she will. It’s disgusting that a woman who represents the second poorest Assembly district in California would rather take away the chance at a good education from the children there because their school isn’t woke to her union agenda. Truly deplorable.

Gonzalez-Fletcher would do well to watch the video of this Gompers student, who testified to the School Board.

CREDIT: Screenshot, Gompers Preparatory Academy Family

In her heartbreaking words: “Good things don’t happen to Gompers often, and when they do, it’s taken away. Is it wrong for us to want good things?”