NY Schools Union Upset Over Chief's 'Educational' Cuba Trip

Monday, 24 Mar 2014 12:22 PM

By Joe Battaglia

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Opponents of the president of the New York City public school union are calling foul over his recent "educational trip" to Cuba while members continue to work without a contract, according to The New York Post.

Santos Crespo Jr., who heads the NYC Board of Education Employees Local 372, traveled to Cuba in 2012. The trip is being called into question among other perceived frivolous expenditures made as the union's 23,000 parent coordinators, crossing guards, and cafeteria workers have been without a contract since 2010.

"Cuba is on the international list of human rights violators. How can he go there under Local 372’s name?" Donald Nesbitt, a June candidate for union vice president, told The Post. "What can he bring back from Cuba that will help our members with their issues? Absolutely nothing."

According to The Post, Crespo has voiced is opposition to the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba and supports the campaign to help the "Cuban 5" spies, who were convicted in 2001 in Miami on charges including conspiracy and failure to register as foreign agents in the United States. They were known as part of the "Wasp Network" sent by Cuba's then-President Fidel Castro to spy in South Florida.

Crespo, a Puerto Rican born in East Harlem and raised in the Bronx, declined to comment on the furor over his trip. He gushed, however, about the trip in a special union newsletter, which featured a picture of the Cuban flag and the headline "We are One – Somos Uno."

"I was in awe and felt inspired," Crespo wrote. "The education system in Cuba is not a profit-driven or politically driven system." He added that there’s "zero illiteracy," and admired the fact that virtually all school workers in Cuba belong to the union.

The trip abroad is just one obstacle Crespo will have to overcome in his re-election bid against executive board member Shaun Francois.

The Post report says Crespo filed a motion in Manhattan state Supreme Court to seal records of a legal payout and settlement the union made with its former political director, Monica Davids. Crespo fired Davids over a dispute, but she filed counterclaims for more than $7,000 in back pay and $150,000 in legal expenses. The settlement is believed to have cost the union "tens of thousands of dollars."

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