Three more years: Incumbent teacher’s union leaders, caucus sweep elections

Miami-Dade County teachers who are also members of United Teachers of Dade voted Wednesday to keep their current union leadership in place for another three years.

As of about 9:30 p.m., about 5,000 ballots had been collected for the in-house election from 347 schools, a roughly 31 percent turnout of UTD’s 16,000 members. Incumbents Karla Hernandez-Mats, Antonio White and Mindy Grimes-Festge, who all ran in the Frontline caucus, were re-elected to their positions of UTD president, vice president and secretary treasurer, respectively.

About 73 percent of the votes for UTD president went to incumbent Hernandez-Mats. She was challenged by Mari Corugedo of the Progressive caucus had 18 percent. Joseph Howard, the lone candidate on the Asset caucus had less than 5 percent, and Ricardo Ocampo of the Red for Ed caucus had less than 3 percent.

White had a 3-to-1 margin over Progressive’s Harold Ford for the first vice president position. Grimes-Festge also had about the same margin of victory over Progressive’s David Moss.

That momentum trickled down the ticket. Frontline candidates handily swept all 21 offices on the ballot.

Hernandez-Mats attributed the success to the voter-approved property tax referendum, which netted upwards of a 12.5 percent supplement for teachers for the next four years, and UTD’s race to ramp up membership to avoid falling under 50 percent, which would trigger a decertification process. She said membership now sits around 53 percent.

“We’re really proud of our team,” she said. “I think our members see the results we’ve done over the years.”

Neither Hernandez-Mats nor Corugedo were glued to the results being posted at the Miami-Dade County Firefighter Memorial Building in Doral. Hernandez-Mats was in another room in the building while Corugedo milled around outside.

Corugedo said she ran on a platform that would bring a uniform and fair process to UTD elections. She said UTD’s Internal Functions Committee favors the candidates in power, as the committee is appointed by UTD’s executive board. Corugedo claimed Frontline had access to teachers’ contact information for campaigning, which was not allowed for her caucus, and union stewards who were on the ballot handled elections at their schools.

Corugedo said she wasn’t surprised by the results.

“They feel that their vote doesn’t matter because no one in this building cares about fair elections,” she said. “I will be the first steward to tell you that we should have nothing to do with elections.”

A Miami Herald reporter was denied entry into the UTD candidate forum held in January. Hernandez-Mats’ chief of staff said no media was allowed.

IFC attorney Kathleen Phillips did confirm that the seven IFC members, who are all union members, were handpicked by UTD’s executive board. Hernandez-Mats also said her executive board did appoint sitting members, although she said some remained from the presidential tenure of Fedrick Ingram, who is now the president of the Florida Education Association.

Phillips said the IFC gets involved with the elections about six to eight months in advance. Building stewards, who are elected by member teachers at their schools, vote to approve the election rules.

The Progressive caucus took issue with a robocall done by former Florida Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum, which endorsed the Frontline caucus. Hernandez-Mats on Wednesday said she asked Gillum, whom she called a friend, to do the robocall for free with phone numbers obtained from a public records request. She said former state Sen. Dwight Bullard also did robocalls favoring her campaign in 2016.

Phillips said there have been no complaints about the robocall. She said inquiries and questions were raised during the campaign process, but candidates have five days to file an objection if they believe it interfered with the election results.