Karla Hernández-Mats, the daughter of Honduran immigrants and the first-ever Hispanic woman elected as president of the United Teachers of Dade (UTD), was sworn into office during a ceremony at Miami-Dade College’s Wolfson Campus on May 19.
Speaking to members of Miami-Dade’s educators’ union following her inauguration, Hernández-Mats thanked her predecessor, outgoing UTD president Fedrick Ingram, who recently took office as vice president of the statewide Florida Education Association.
She described how Ingram picked her out of the crowd years ago at a UTD rally. She recalled how the experienced union leader helped her cultivate and develop advocacy and leadership skills. Hernández-Mats had served as the union’s secretary-treasurer for the past three years.
“I want to thank Fedrick for bringing me into this journey of sleepless nights and endless fights,” Hernández-Mats said.
Hernández-Mats won election with 57 percent of the vote on February 17 in balloting that took place throughout the Miami-Dade school district. UTD members also elected Antonio White as first vice president and Mindy Grimes-Festge as secretary-treasurer.
With more than 13,800 members, UTD is the largest teachers union in Florida and the largest local labor union in the Southeastern United States.
The union’s new leadership team, said Hernández-Mats, is “already working at 500 percent, and we just became official.” Union negotiators currently are meeting with school district officials to discuss a new contract agreement.
“We’re looking for a salary increase and sustainable healthcare, to say the least,” she added.
A graduate of Miami public schools, Hernández-Mats is a special education teacher who worked for 10 years in Miami-Dade schools prior to her election as UTD secretary-treasurer in 2013.
Hernández-Mats thanked her parents for their support of her education and professional career. Her father, she recalled, “was present at every school function.” Her mother “read every letter that was sent home and made sure I had everything I needed. She supported me, and she supported the teachers that worked with me.”
One challenge confronting educators is that not all students have a strong support system at home. the new UTD president observed. Many parents struggle to provide for their children, she said.
The achievement gap is real and is largely due to socioeconomic disadvantage,” Hernández-Mats said. “Our adversaries must stop scapegoating by blaming educators for all things wrong in society.
“We need more resources for underprivileged kids. True social justice is found in investing in early childhood education, not through overcrowded prison systems.”