Speculation still swirls over CTA chief’s firing

Joe Nuñez , former executive director of the California Teachers Association. (Image: Screen capture from CTA video)

California’s education world is abuzz with speculation about three recent developments, little of which has to do with schools.

1. What led to the abrupt summer firing of Joe Nuñez as executive director of the 325,000-member California Teachers Association, one of the biggest and most powerful labor groups in California?

2. Who will the board of directors appoint as Nuñez’s permanent successor?

3. What caused the California Faculty Association, (CFA) with 19,000 members, to “disaffiliate” from the teachers association in July?

“The California Faculty Association, after lengthy consideration and upon a vote of the CFA Board of Directors, disaffiliated with the National Education Association and the California Teachers Association,” CFA president Charles Toombs told Capitol Weekly in a prepared statement. “CFA continues to support public K-12 teachers in California and nationwide, and will fight alongside them for educational justice.”

Nuñez was dumped on July 17 after six years at the helm of the CTA and nearly 25 years in other positions with the organization.

In a letter to”whom it may concern,” Toombs said the disaffiliation was the result of a review of the contract between the two organizations “over the past several years” that in part led to the split. Privately,  two people with knowledge of the issue said CFA had long been concerned over its connection to CTA.

The CFA’s decision clearly weakens the CTA through the loss of members, but just how much — and for how long — is not clear.

“The severing of the ties between the two organizations comes at a time of some turbulence in the CTA’s leadership,” reported EdSource on Aug. 1. EdSource, which covers education issues in California, also reported that CFA “ended its ties to the National Education Association, of which the CTA is a state affiliate. Toombs, a professor of Africana Studies at San Diego State University, did not provide any further details in his letter to the CTA.”

Earlier, in March, Toby Boyd had been elected president of the CTA in an upset victory over  Theresa Montaño, a CSU professor.

Nuñez was dumped on July 17 after six years at the helm of the CTA and nearly 25 years in other positions with the organization. The surprise firing — it occurred in the evening  —  was first reported by Politico. One education official described the dismissal as a board betrayal of Nuñez.

Eerily, an announcement of the action was accompanied by effusive praise.

“His passion and commitment for the work we do on behalf of California’s students and educators has led us to great victories that have improved the learning and working conditions in our schools and colleges,” Boyd said in a prepared statement.

The CTA news release announcing Nuñez’s firing can only be described as a masterpiece of public relations circumlocution, beginning with:

“The California Teachers Association recognizes the accomplishments and legacy of veteran educator and union advocate Joe Nuñez who has been the CTA executive director for the last six years.”

But then came the second sentence:

“Nunez is leaving the association following a vote by the board of directors to end his relationship with CTA.”

Gail Gregorio was tapped to serve as CTA’s interim executive director. She previously coordinated regional organizing, bargaining, membership engagement and political action activities.

Most speculation about Nunez’s departure swirls around internal battles, with a new board wanting to move the organization toward more aggressive political action.

All has not been quiet on the California education from in recent months.

The U. S. Supreme Court ruled in 2018 that mandatory union fees in the public sector – such as schools — violate the First Amendment right to free speech, potentially depriving unions of revenue. The CTA, which had been preparing for the decision, says it has added thousands of members since that “Janus” ruling.

There have also been major teachers’ strikes in big California school districts.

In January, more than 30,000 Los Angeles teachers went on strike, protesting what they said was low pay, large class sizes, inadequate support staffs of nurses and librarians, and the proliferation of charter schools. It was the Los Angeles Unified School District’s first strike in 30 years.

In Oakland, a week-long strike ended on March 4 after teachers won an 11 percent pay raise spread over four years. It was the longest Oakland teachers’ strike since 1996. Strikes were threatened in San Ramon and Dublin, two East Bay suburbs.

Nunez’s firing was not greeted with unanimous rejoicing across California’s education world.

Steven Comstock Jr., president of the Bakersfield Elementary Teachers Association tweeted that Nunez was a victim of “betrayal by a power-grabbing board.”

Nuñez has spent more than 45 years in California public education and was named CTA’s executive director in 2013. He was the CTA’s chief Sacramento lobbyist for years,  served on the State Board of Education and taught at the Ernest Righetti High School in Santa Maris for 20 years.

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