For the second time in eight days, protesters gathered outside the La Raza Community Resource Center, demanding a change in the nonprofit organization’s leadership.
The demonstrators included current and former La Raza employees who want its executive director, Gabriel Medina, replaced.
“The great majority of the staff have lost confidence in the ED,” read an unsigned flyer protesters distributed at the event. The flyer, which included eight talking points, referred to Medina’s “precarious handling of finances and certain programs, his mistreatment of staff, and his failure to take responsibility and address any of the problems.”
“Many staff felt demeaned and bullied by him,” said Carl Larsen Santos, La Raza’s legal director, who participated in the protest. “He micromanages us.”
Santos said that about 12 of La Raza’s current 20 employees supported the protest, including five who attended the demonstration. “I think it’s an existential threat to this organization. We need a leadership change,” he said, adding that he expects “a lot of staff to resign” if nothing changes.
The group of 20 or so protesters also included community members. La Raza, located at 474 Valencia St., has provided social services, legal and educational assistance to the immigrant community for more than half a century. Its budget for the fiscal year 2020 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 facts,” said Medina. “And the facts are, there are some unhappy staff. And there’s some staff that are, I wouldn’t even say unhappy, there’s some staff that are undergoing a massive transition.”
“This is part of the transition process,” he stressed. “I succeeded a leader, a distinguished leader of 25 years, which is my predecessor. There are big shoes to fill. It’s been 13 months.”
Melba Maldonado, the previous director, led the nonprofit through the pandemic. “It was a baptism by fire,” she told Mission Local in March 2021. “We had to figure everything out by ourselves.”
Sergio Sosa, La Raza’s pantry coordinator and family resource specialist, who was suspended from his post today, joined the group of demonstrators. Sosa also helped organize last Tuesday’s protest.
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 before today, and the email he received mentioned “harassment” without providing any additional details.
“I’m kind of worried to see what the reason is, and because I’m the head of the house,” said Sosa, who is the father of two children.
Cristina Gutierrez, 70, director of the nearby day school Companeros del Barrio, also joined the demonstration. “When you see the workers here and they feel that they have been unjust, then we hear what they had to say and we support them, because that’s how it is.” Gutierrez said.
Multiple current and former staff members told Mission Local they feared retaliation from the executive director and the board. One former employee who came to show her support declined to be named because “I’m still working in the community,” she said.
Another former employee, Roxana Morales, said she resigned Feb. 4 because Medina was very “hostile” towards her.
“I think when he came in, everybody gave him a chance,” said Morales. “We were all open to the idea of having a new director, and we were open to see what kind of suggestions and changes he would make.” They found, she said, that he had little respect for them and “was micromanaging everything.”
“It was just really quick, we could see that his intentions were not good,” she said.
Medina defended his performance, saying that in the last year the organization has “grown more than ever.”
Morales said the staff was responsible for that growth. “I think he’s just taking credit for things that we did as a staff,” she said.
“I don’t think his intentions were good. And a lot of people feel that this position, being the executive director, was just another stepping stone for him to move on to maybe be an office or something, to run for the state,” said Morales.
“I respect the rights of workers to express themselves. I’m pro-worker,” Medina said. “I just look forward to finally having the opportunity to talk to staff about their concerns.”
According to the protesters’ flyer, La Raza’s board of directors “has done nothing to insulate staff from the executive director.”
In an email to Mission Local, Sarah Souza, the board president and a legislative aide to Supervisor Aaron Peskin, wrote: “The board stands firm in our commitment to ensuring our immigrant community continues to have access to essential resources by La Raza, and reminds staff that we must work collaboratively to address internal issues.”
Souza added that the Board was “engaging a third-party workplace investigations specialist to conduct an assessment, interviewing every member of our staff to ensure all have an opportunity to speak out and be heard and to help our board gain a better understanding of the issue.”
The protesters, however, were reluctant to believe in the board’s effort. “The board and ED have been working together to silence our efforts to protect La Raza CRC rather than trying to address our grievances in good faith,” they said in their open letter.
“We do not have confidence in the objectivity or neutrality of the board’s investigation,” the protesters wrote in their letter.