For the second time in eight days, protesters gathered outside the La Raza Community Resource Center, demanding a change in the direction of the nonprofit organization.
The protesters included current and former La Raza employees who want its executive director, Gabriel Medina, replaced.
“The vast majority of staff have lost faith in the ED,” reads an unsigned protester leaflet distributed at the event. The leaflet, which included eight talking points, referred to “Medina’s precarious management of finances and certain programs, its mistreatment of staff and its failure to take responsibility and solve problems”.
“Many employees felt belittled and intimidated by him,” said La Raza legal director Carl Larsen Santos, who participated in the protest. “He’s micromanaging us.”
Santos said about 12 of La Raza’s 20 current employees supported the protest, including five who participated. “I think it’s an existential threat to this organization. We need a change of direction,” he said, adding that he expects “a lot of staff to quit” if nothing changes.
The group of around 20 protesters also included members of the community. La Raza, located at 474 Valencia Street, has been providing social services, legal and educational assistance to the immigrant community for over half a century. Its fiscal year 2020 budget was $1.8 million, an increase from $1.4 million in 2019.
“People can say their own talking points. But I think it’s more important to deal with the facts,” Medina said. “And the facts are that there are disgruntled employees. And there are staff who are, I wouldn’t even say unhappy, there are staff who are going through a massive transition.
“It’s part of the transition process,” he said. “I took over from a leader, a 25-year-old leader emeritus, who is my predecessor. There are big shoes to fill. It’s been 13 months. »
Melba Maldonado, the former director, led the nonprofit during the pandemic. “It was a baptism of fire,” she told Mission Local in March 2021. “We had to figure it all out on our own.”
Sergio Sosa, La Raza pantry coordinator and family resources specialist who was suspended from his post today, was among the group of protesters. Sosa also helped organize the protest last Tuesday.
Sosa said he received an email this morning from the human resources department informing him that he would be suspended for a week pending the outcome of an internal investigation into allegations of harassment.
According to Sosa, he had not received a warning from La Raza until today, and the email he received mentioned “harassment” without providing further details.
“I’m a little worried what the reason is, and because I’m the head of the house,” said Sosa, who is a father of two.
Cristina Gutierrez, 70, director of the nearby Companeros del Barrio day school, also joined the protest. “When you see the workers here and they feel they’ve been unfair, then we hear what they had to say and we support them, because that’s how it is.” Gutierrez said.
Several current and former staff members told Mission Local they fear retaliation from the executive director and board. A former employee who came to show her support declined to be named because “I still work in the community,” she said.
Another former employee, Roxana Morales, said she quit on February 4 because Medina was very “hostile” towards her.
“I think when he arrived everyone gave him a chance,” Morales said. “We were all open to the idea of having a new manager and we were open to seeing what kind of suggestions and changes he would bring.” They discovered, she said, that he had little respect for them and was “micromanaging everything.”
“It was just very quick, we could see his intentions weren’t good,” she said.
Medina defended his performance saying that over the past year the organization has “grown more than ever”.
Morales said the staff were responsible for this growth. “I think he takes credit for the things we’ve done as a staff,” she said.
“I don’t think his intentions were good. And a lot of people think that position, as executive director, was just another stepping stone for him to maybe become an office or something, to run for state,” Morales said. .
“I respect the right of workers to express themselves. I am pro-worker,” Medina said. “I look forward to finally having the opportunity to speak to the staff about their concerns.”
According to the protesters’ flyer, La Raza’s board of directors “did nothing to isolate the executive director’s staff.”
In an email to Mission Local Sarah Souza, Board Chair and Legislative Assistant to Supervisor Aaron Peskin, wrote, “The Board remains steadfast in its commitment to ensuring our immigrant community continues to have access to La Raza’s essential resources and reminds staff that we need to work together to address internal issues.
Souza added that the council was “engaging a third-party workplace investigation specialist to conduct an assessment, interviewing every member of our staff to ensure everyone has a chance to speak up and be heard and to help our advice to better understand the problem.”
Protesters, however, were reluctant to believe the council’s efforts. “The board and ED worked together to silence our efforts to protect CRC de La Raza rather than try to address our grievances in good faith,” they said in their open letter.
“We have no confidence in the objectivity or neutrality of the council’s investigation,” the protesters wrote in their letter.