Union hire: Teachers’ negotiator brings some baggage

Teachers are supposed to be held to a higher standard. Their unions should be, too.

But the Clark County Education Association clearly is not preoccupied with public perception or how its leaders reflect on the rank and file. The union has named a new lead negotiator in its stalemate with the administration of the Clark County School District. John Vellardita takes over as CCEA executive director next Monday.

Mr. Vellardita recently finished sabotaging a California local of United Healthcare Workers-West, so much so that he and his partners were ordered by a federal jury to pay $1.5 million in damages to the local’s parent union, the Service Employees International Union. The Review-Journal’s Trevon Milliard reported Sunday that Mr. Vellardita was personally liable for $77,850 in damages, the largest share of any of the 17 co-defendants, for conspiracy to make the union ungovernable, destruction of files and property, violating union bylaws and breaking fiduciary responsibilities.

According to the lawsuit, the SEIU was about to take over the local because of financial improprieties. So Mr. Vellardita, a trustee for the educational fund at the center of the controversy and head of the local’s long-term care division, ordered that documents be shredded and members’ contact information be transferred to off-site locations, but rendered unusable in the local’s computer servers. Whoever took over would have to rebuild records from scratch.

Mr. Vellardita also faced allegations of breaking into and stealing documents from an SEIU office, and of threatening a man who remained with the local after the SEIU takeover.

CCEA President Ruben Murillo said the union is “100 percent behind” Mr. Vellardita because he has no criminal record and “has vast experience in negotiations.” The civil judgment is acceptable baggage because “we feel he did it for his members,” Mr. Murillo said.

Mr. Vellardita is a career union agitator, with more than 35 years of work in the labor movement. Considering teachers have complained about the hiring of new Deputy Superintendent Pedro Martinez because his background is in business, not education, how will they react to having their union led by someone who lacks classroom experience?

Mr. Vellardita’s job is to draw an even harder line against the school district in contract talks that already are going to arbitration. If teachers don’t agree to pay freezes, among other concessions, hundreds will be laid off. Putting a tough guy at the table to say “no” in an even nastier way won’t make a difference in an economy that is still contracting.

It is important to distinguish the difference between the teacher unions and the rank and file, many of whom abhor what organized labor has done to their profession. Teachers still enjoy a lot of public good will. But if Clark County instructors allow Mr. Vellardita to lead their union, they shouldn’t be surprised if they suddenly have public perception issues.

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