A Message from the Board of Directors, Annotated by the Union

You can view our annotations on the latest message from the Board of Directors here: https://genius.it/17810917/advancingjustice-la.org/blog/message-board-directors. Text is also below, with annotations (bolded/italicized).

(Note that nothing in the Board of Directors’ post refutes anything in our timeline post.) The Board of Directors would like to address recent statements that we along with current management oppose the staff of Advancing Justice-LA unionizing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Advancing Justice-LA, with the support of the Board, voluntarily recognized the union at the outset. (It is important to note that Management was completely different at the time that Advancing Justice-LA agreed to voluntarily recognize the union. Stewart Kwoh still served as Executive Director. By contrast, Interim Management – Sylia Obaji, Aileen Louie, and Anthony Roh – have no track record whatsoever of respecting the union and its activities.) The Board fully supports the staff’s right to organize and will continue to work in good faith with the collective bargaining unit. (The Board and Interim Management have not worked in good faith with the collective bargaining unit. Line staff have repeatedly called for greater transparency and participation in decision-making, yet these pleas have been met with silence. Instead, the Board and Interim Management covertly passed a plan for layoffs and restructuring, without providing notice to or conferring with the collective bargaining unit.)

Advancing Justice-LA is currently at a crossroads. Just a few short months ago, we began the formal process of identifying a successor for Stewart Kwoh, Advancing Justice-LA’s Founder and past President and Executive Director. Around the same time, the Board began grappling with the organization’s financial and operational challenges, including the fact that we had historically underinvested in our operating systems, infrastructure and professional development resources for staff. (The reality is that, for years, the organization’s finances had been mismanaged. The Board of Directors, which long has been disconnected from the organization and its work, failed to provide proper oversight and only noticed the financial mismanagement when all three of the organization’s Vice Presidents – Kathleen Chuman, Reshma Shamasunder, and Bonnie Tang – resigned, virtually simultaneously. Interim Management and the Board of Directors are now using their failures as excuses to conduct retaliatory terminations of line staff that have been involved in union activities.)

For too long, Advancing Justice-LA focused solely on our mission and meeting the needs of the communities we serve. Our efforts were directed at growth and expanding the services and programs we offer. However, we lost sight of what it means to grow in a sustainable way.  We didn’t invest back into our infrastructure, including critical areas like human resources, technology and facilities. And most importantly, we didn’t invest back into our most valuable resource – our people.  (The Board and Interim Management have been treating the organization’s staff as liabilities, not assets. They have failed to consult the organization’s “most valuable resource” time and time again, and instead, they have made decisions to dramatically deplete this resource.) Now the financial and operational stability of Advancing Justice-LA is at stake.

We are facing difficult challenges and there is no easy solution, but please know that the Board, our founder Stewart Kwoh, and Advancing Justice-LA’s current management team fully respect the rights of workers and their right to organize. We also respect the union negotiations process and will continue to do so.  (By failing to even provide notice to the union that it was contemplating layoffs, the Board and Interim Management have made clear that they have no respect for the union negotiations process.) We are working hard to address the needs and rightful concerns of our employees.  (How can the Board possibly address “the needs and rightful concerns of [] employees” when it has no idea what those are? The Board has ignored the staff’s repeated pleas for greater transparency and participation.) At the same time, we have a responsibility to confront head on the dire financial state of the organization.  

We must find ways to ensure responsible spending and sustainable financial health. The Board has been working closely with the staff leadership team, interim executive director Sylia Obagi and our founder Stewart Kwoh to find effective solutions that will have the least impact on Advancing Justice-LA’s staff and operations. (Note that that the Board does not list “staff” among the people with which it has been “working closely.”) Unfortunately, right-sizing the organization, as well as a reinvigorated fundraising strategy, are essential to our future success. (Not only have they failed to address our demand for a moratorium on layoffs until the collective bargaining agreement is finalized, the Board and Interim Management are doubling down on layoffs, this time utilizing the corporate euphemism “right-sizing.” Note that, even taking this euphemism for what it is, the Board and Interim Management cannot possibly know what the “right size” for the organization is, as they do not have a full appreciation for the work that our organization does.)

Efforts to reset the organization for success are being done alongside unionization. (It is clear that the Board and Interim Management, given their attempt to covertly lay off staff members involved in union activities, view unionization as an obstacle to “reset[ting] the organization for success.”) This is incredibly complex and we are limited in terms of what we can do given our current financial situation. (There is no evidence that either the Board or Interim Management has considered alternatives to layoffs to address the financial problems that the organization purportedly faces.) We are doing our best to do right by our employees while at the same time ensuring we regain a solid financial footing so that we can continue doing our important work.  

Advancing Justice-LA’s challenges have been shared with our funders and other key stakeholders. With their support, we will continue to be transparent as we can (Which is apparently not transparent at all.) while we work through this difficult time.

These challenges we face are not easy to address and unfortunately there is no perfect solution. However, we will get through this difficult time. We are committed to this organization its mission and our staff. (Evidence suggests otherwise.) We have no doubt we will come out of this a stronger organization better positioned to advance justice for our communities. (It is incredible that the Board repeats the words “we” and “our” to refer to the communities that we serve. It is the staff that diligently serve these communities day in and day out, and the Board has proven that it cannot be farther away from that work.)


Asian Americans Advancing Justice – LA Board of Directors

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