Southern California -- this just in

Category: Labor

UC faculty leaders blast legislation on online education expansion

In a crossing of swords between academics and politicians, the University of California’s top two faculty leaders on Friday strongly criticized legislation that would allow students bumped from overcrowded core courses at state schools to instead take online courses from other colleges or private companies.

The bill, authored by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), “raises grave concerns,” Robert L. Powell and Bill Jacob, the chairman and vice chairman of the UC system’s faculty Senate, wrote in a letter to colleagues. Among other things, “the clear self-interest of for profit corporations in promoting the privatization of public higher education through this legislation is dismaying,” they said.

The Steinberg legislation, introduced Wednesday amid strong national interest, proposes a special review panel, comprised of faculty from UC, Cal State and community colleges, to determine which online courses are worthy of academic credit.

The goal is a list of up to 50 basic undergraduate courses that students could take online for UC, Cal State or community college credit if they cannot gain enrollment into those courses on campus.

Powell, a chemical engineering professor at UC Davis, and Jacob, a mathematics professor at UC Santa Barbara, rejected that plan as an assault on the power of UC’s Academic Senate to determine whether transfer courses cover the right material with the same rigor as UC courses do.

“There is no possibility that UC faculty will shirk its responsibility to our students by ceding authority over courses to any outside agency,” they wrote.

The two, who are the faculty representatives on the UC Regents board, said they were not consulted in advance of Steinberg’s announcement but said they plan to meet with his staff soon.

The faculty union at the Cal State system previously expressed similar concerns.

Rhys Williams, Steinberg’s spokesman, said Friday that the bill specifically gives California faculty control, albeit in a new way, over which online courses should be approved and that “nobody is trying to take away power from the faculty.”

He said the senator's office “embraces the opportunity to discuss” the bill with faculty leaders and that its details might change as a result.

However, he said the senator remains committed to the legislation’s goal of helping students.

“Students and middle-class families are in desperate need of action to break the bottlenecks that are preventing timely graduation and ultimately increasing the burden of student debt,” Williams said.


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Labor leader says L.A. like 'ghost town' before AEG's Leiweke arrived

One of Los Angeles' most important labor leaders said Thursday that Anschutz Entertainment Group's departing chief executive Tim Leiweke set a precedent for how developers could work with labor unions in the city.

And if he ran for public office, “I would be there to support him,” said Maria-Elena Durazo, executive director of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

“He really set the example,” said Durazo, whose coalition of unions supported AEG’s projects in exchange for the promise of union jobs. "The partnership between him and labor motivated other developers to have that kind of relationship.”

AEG: A look back

Durazo said Leiweke’s downtown boosterism had a catalyzing effect.

“I think it really triggered a new excitement, a new willingness to invest in Los Angeles,” she said. “Prior to Tim Leiweke coming to Los Angeles, downtown was pretty much a ghost town.”

Billionaire businessman and philanthropist Eli Broad also hailed Leiweke as "a remarkable civic leader whose vision and tenacity has led to the extraordinary success of LA Live.  Tim is a dynamic force who has always been politically astute and civic-minded in every challenge he tackled.  Downtown Los Angeles today would not be the same without Tim."

PHOTOS: AEG properties in Southern California

Durazo said she had raised the prospect of Leiweke running for office, but that he did not seem eager to do so.


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Departing AEG chief Tim Leiweke seen as political force in L.A.

Los Angeles developer Steve Soboroff had only fond memories Thursday of working with downtown business figure Tim Leiweke, as officials announced he would be leaving his post as chief executive of Anschutz Entertainment Group by mutual agreement with its owner.

Soboroff, an early backer of AEG's Staples Center in downtown, said Leiweke brought a spark when he arrived in Los Angeles in the late 1990s to push the project forward for Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz.

“The minute Tim came out here the whole dynamic changed,” Soboroff said. “It went from a stadium deal to the first step in a larger vision of reshaping the sports and hospitality business in downtown and the rest of Los Angeles. And he implemented it.”

AEG: A look back

Leiweke’s impact stretched far beyond the business world, Soboroff said. “He created the company. He grew the company. He operated the company. And in order to do that he became a political and philanthropic force.”

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L.A. Votes: Building runoff machines, courting endorsements

Photo: Mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti speaks at a news conference on March 6. Credit: Nick Ut / Associated Press

After a frenzy of activity on the campaign trail in recent weeks, culminating in last week’s primary election, the mayoral candidates are focusing on raising money, trotting out new endorsements and courting party and labor loyalists to build their general-election campaign machinery.

Election memoOn Tuesday, Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti courted two key groups-–the most influential labor coalition in the county, and the county Democrats, neither of which endorsed in the primary.

Reflecting the tightness of the race, the county Democratic Party again split on which candidates to endorse in the May 21 runoff election. But a key committee of the county Federation of Labor backed Greuel, setting in motion the procedural votes that will almost certainly result in an official endorsement in the next week. Both candidates vigorously sought the imprimateur of the federation, which represents about 600,000 workers.

FULL COVERAGE: L.A.'s race for mayor

The fight for endorsements-–which can carry financial backing, influence or armies of volunteers-–has intensified in recent days over the parties that did not weigh in before the primary. Now that the field has been whittled down to two, state lawmakers are increasingly making their decision on who to back in the mayoral contest. Greuel rolled out the backing of two influential African American pastors, and Garcetti rolled out the backing of some labor unions and the former leader of the state Democratic party.

The lull in campaigning is likely to be short-lived. Greuel plans to stump Wednesday morning with women and minority business leaders, while Garcetti will speak at a luncheon for the L.A. Metropolitan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.


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Comments, questions or tips on city elections? Tweet me at @LATSeema

Photo: Mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti speaks at a news conference on March 6. Credit: Nick Ut / Associated Press

Greuel, Garcetti courted big labor group for endorsement

As she sought the endorsement of the county’s most influential public employee union Tuesday, mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel dismissed criticism of her backing from organized labor, saying unions are not political "baggage."

“When I go out to parts of the city and they say to me, ‘I’m not sure I can vote for you because you’re the labor candidate.’ Guess what? I’m proud to have labor support," said told the political committee of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, an umbrella group representing 600,000 workers. 

"You know what they also say?" Greuel added. " ‘You’re a special interest. Ooh. That’s horrible,’ " she said, mockingly. “I’m proud that you’re a special interest. And you’re a special interest for the working men and women.”

Greuel made the remarks at a closed-door meeting of the labor federation, shortly before 70% of the committee voted to give her their endorsement. The Times acquired recordings of portions of the remarks made by both Greuel and her rival, Councilman Eric Garcetti.

The endorsement will not be official until two more votes occur over the next week, but those approvals  are considered largely procedural.

As she has in the past, Greuel accused Garcetti of failing to engage in collective bargaining –- a  reference to a pivotal vote last fall on pensions. That was when city officials hiked the retirement age and scaled back pension benefits for newly hired civilian city workers, over the objections of unions that said the changes had not been properly negotiated. The changes take effect July 1 and are designed to save $4 billion over 30 years.

“It’s about collective bargaining. How important is collective bargaining to all of us? It is the heart and soul of what you stand for,” Greuel told the labor committee.

Garcetti voted to support the pension changes. His spokesman, Jeff Millman, defended the councilman’s handling of the vote on retirement benefits and questioned whether Greuel would side with unions who are now challenging the pension rollback.

“Eric collectively bargained hundreds of millions of dollars in real pension reform. While Ms. Greuel won't say it publicly, it appears she would undo the city's pension reforms,” he said.

In a phone call, Greuel would not say whether she would side with unions that have filed a challenge to the pension changes. But she said she favored both the pension rollback and the collective bargaining process.

"I supported the reforms," she said. "I think there should have been collective bargaining."

As city controller, Greuel did not have to vote on the rollback of benefits for new employees. Officials who supported the pension changes were warned by the labor federation's leader, Maria Elena Durazo, that their votes would “come back and haunt” them.

Garcetti, who has sharply criticized the multimillion-dollar campaign support Greuel has received from city employee unions, argued in Tuesday's meeting that he was not attacking labor.

“I haven’t hit back at labor,” he said. “Let me be clear. The term special interests … is not something I’ve used to attack labor.”

He also argued that he has long supported the cause of labor, such as crafting an ordinance that forbids the opening of nonunion Wal-Mart SuperCenters in the city. “As we speak right now  I’m doing more to promote labor … on issues that you care about than anybody else in this race,” he said.

“But I have more in that plus column that anybody in this race,” he said. “And I’m going to win. I’m going to be the next mayor. And I can’t wait to get to work with each of you, each of you, no matter where you are in this race.”

Once news of the labor federation vote broke, Garcetti’s campaign responded by trumpeting its support from other unions, including Teamsters Joint Council 42, the Communication Workers of America’s Southern California Council, Laborers' Local 300, and the Service Employees International Union’s United Service Workers West.

"We are already making calls and knocking on doors for Eric Garcetti," said Ron Herrera, of the Teamsters' council, said in a statement. Garcetti is the preferred choice of his union, he said, because of the councilman has shown a strong ability to grow jobs in his district.


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Greuel picks up another big union endorsement

Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel addresses supporters on March 5. Credit: David McNew / Getty Images

The political committee of a powerful Los Angeles County labor organization has backed City Controller Wendy Greuel in the mayoral runoff election after declining to pick a candidate in the primary.

After both Greuel and City Councilman Eric Garcetti spoke Tuesday morning at the political committee of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Greuel won 70% of the vote, a little more than the two-thirds necessary for endorsement. The vote must be ratified by the federation’s executive committees and delegates, votes that will take place over the next week. But those moves are largely considered procedural.

“Wendy Greuel was pleased to participate in the first step of a three-step process at the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor in asking for their support,” said Greuel spokesman Dave Jacobson. “She is proud of her broad base of support from working men and women ranging from 911 operators to nurses to firefighters to trash haulers as well as her far-reaching support from the business community, including the L.A. area Chamber of Commerce, VICA and Bizfed.”

FULL COVERAGE: L.A.'s race for mayor

The federation represents 600,000 workers, and part of its clout lies in its ability to spend big while communicating with its members. In 2005, the year the group backed then-Mayor James Hahn, the federation spent nearly $373,000 on mailers and expenses designed to turn out its union members on election day. That money was not governed by campaign spending limits. Hahn lost to then-Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa.

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L.A. Votes: Garcetti, Greuel reach out; how the tax vote varied

How LA voted
After winning spots in the May 21 mayoral runoff, Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti are back on the campaign trail and heavily courting two distinct constituencies -- black Democrats in South Los Angeles and white Republicans in the San Fernando Valley.Election Memo

The candidates are also increasingly highlighting their plans to revitalize the city’s economy -- a reaction, some argue, to widespread criticism that Greuel and Garcetti failed to offer many specifics during the primary.

Many eyes turned to failed mayoral candidates Jan Perry and Kevin James, whose supporters could be key to winning in the May runoff. Perry has not endorsed, but had harsh words for Greuel’s ties to labor. James met with both remaining candidates in recent days as he decides whether to endorse.

FULL COVERAGE: L.A.'s race for mayor

The Times analyzed voter trends in the other big contest on the ballot: the half-cent sales tax increase that L.A. city voters rejected. The results showed a tale of two cities, with voters in the poorest parts of Los Angeles who are most dependent on city services more likely to support the measure, while residents in more affluent swaths were more likely to be against it.

Columnist Steve Lopez weighs in on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's supporting the sales-tax proposal as vital for retaining key city services, and then claiming that the city’s finances are rosier than believed after the tax failed at the ballot box.


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Comments, questions or tips on city elections? Tweet me at @LATSeema

Garcetti and Greuel woo James

Let the courtship begin.

Kevin James, the Republican candidate who came in third place in Los Angeles’ mayoral race, will be meeting with the candidates who made the runoff election. James is sitting down with Wendy Greuel on Friday, and with Eric Garcetti over the weekend.

James received nearly 47,000, or 16% of the votes cast. While Garcetti received double that and Greuel nearly did, they will be aggressively courting James for his endorsement. If either Democrat can pull James’ supporters--mostly Republicans and many from the San Fernando Valley, into their column, that puts them close to victory in the May 21 runoff election.

James said that he has not decided whether he will endorse in the runoff, but he has strict criteria for the candidates as he makes up his decision.

“For Ms. Greuel, I need to have some confidence that there’s going to be some semblance of independence between her position as mayor and the public-sector unions,” James said in an interview this week.

Greuel was a major beneficiary of union spending in the race, and on Wednesday picked up the endorsement of a powerful union that represents 10,000 city workers.

“That just means that her hill gets steeper. That doesn’t mean she can’t achieve it,” James said.

“For Mr. Garcetti, I need to have some confidence and belief that he will run the office of mayor differently than he did as council president,”James said.


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Teachers union to vote on aggressive stand against Deasy policies

The Los Angeles teachers union has scheduled an April vote for an initiative that would, if passed, call for a more aggressive posture against the leadership of the L.A. Unified School District.

The goal is to get a majority of teachers to push back against policies adopted by Supt. John Deasy and the Board of Education, while also offering an alternative approach to improving academic achievement in the nation’s second-largest school district.

The effort comes in the wake of this month's school board elections, which left unsettled a joust over the path of future school-improvement efforts. Union-backed incumbent Steve Zimmer prevailed, as did incumbent Monica Garcia, a strong Deasy backer. Deasy likely emerged with a sometimes fragile, but workable majority on most issues.  

“The ‘strategy’ of closed-door negotiations around single issues without a broad public campaign to defend and promote public education is failing miserably,” said union activist David Rapkin in a recent online posting to other teachers. “Out-foxing the enemy at the negotiations table is a losing strategy. It ignores the fact that without building real grassroots power around a broad vision for public education, and a vision that includes our power to wage a popular strike, we cannot win in this political and economic climate.”

The union ballot language speaks of “collaborating with parents, students, school communities, and other educational allies and advocates” on a citywide campaign. It also calls for negotiations with district officials on a range of issues — and ending a defensive strategy attempting to block or modify district proposals as they appear one after another.

The goals include reversing budget cuts affecting jobs and classrooms and ending the practice of re-staffing low-performing schools and minimizing the use of standardized tests. Another target is the use of “value-added” formulas in evaluations, which rate instructors based on how much students have learned.

Continue reading »

L.A. Votes: Runoff rivals dash for cash; Villaraigosa says budget not so bleak

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa -- Irfan Khan--Los Angeles Times
The two candidates who earned a spot in the runoff to be Los Angeles’ next mayor have little time to savor their victory. Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti must immediately start raising money, because unlike in state and federal elections, they were prohibited for raising money for the general election during the primary. Election Memo

And they weren’t allowed to reserve any of the millions of dollars they raised in the primary for the runoff, meaning the candidates started raising new funds within hours of the polls closing Tuesday. Garcetti sent off an email missive before he went to sleep that night, and also one targeting donors who had contributed the maximum of $1,300 in the primary. The morning after, Greuel launched a 72-hour grass-roots fundraising drive urging supporters to “be one of the first” to support the city controller in the general election.

But the independent committees backing their bids face no such restrictions, giving Greuel both a potential financial boost and a messaging problem. The main independent group supporting her is up-and-running, but largely backed by city employee unions, a connection that troubles some voters.

FULL COVERAGE: L.A.'s race for mayor

The termed-out mayor that Greuel and Garcetti are vying to replace, Antonio Villaraigosa has not weighed in on the contest, but said Thursday that he plans to take a “real close look” at both of the candidates.

Villaraigosa was a major proponent of a measure--rejected by voters--to increase the sales tax. Backers said the half-cent hike was vital to avoiding cuts to critical city services. On Thursday, two days after the measure's defeat, Villaraigosa said the city’s deficit didn’t look so bad after all.

The Times looked at where the sales-tax proposal, Proposition A, succeeded and where it failed among city voters. Ben Welsh, an editor with the Times Data Desk, broke down the split.

-- Seema Mehta

Comments, questions or tips on city elections? Tweet me at @LATSeema

Photo: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Credit: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times


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