Santa Ana Officials Say Police Union President Launched Recalls in Retaliation for Labor Agreement Vote

By Jack Bradley
Jack Bradley
Jack Bradley
Jack Bradley is a daily news reporter for The Epoch Times based in Southern California.
January 30, 2023Updated: February 1, 2023

Mayor Pro Tem Jessie Lopez and Councilmember Thai Viet Phan were joined by local officials Jan. 30 on the steps of City Hall in Santa Ana, California, saying they are being targeted by recalls launched by the city’s police union president.

According to public filings with the state, initial paperwork for the establishment of recall committees have been formed to seek both their removals. Such, at this point, do not include persons behind the recalls, only the respective names of the committees forming the efforts.

Lopez and Phan allege union president Gerry Serano is behind both efforts following a 4–3 council vote last month on labor negotiations with the police union, which included a provision eliminating Serrano’s role that has allowed him to act as union president without working for the department. Per that vote, now his role requires him to perform police duties.

“We are being punished,” Lopez told The Epoch Times. “This is political vengeance because we did not vote a certain way for one specific item that the council voted on.”

Epoch Times Photo
Santa Ana Mayor Pro Tem Jessie Lopez speaks about a recall against her at City Hall in Santa Ana, Calif., on Jan. 30, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

The group—Residents for Responsible Leadership in Support of the Recall of Thai Viet Phan, Sponsored by Santa Ana Police Officers Association Independent Expenditure Committee—filed formation paperwork Jan. 18, according to filing records with the state. A second effort, by the same group but targeting Lopez was also filed the same day.

Lopez said she suspects Serrano is behind both efforts “based off a previous conversation,” she said.

“It’s a threat that’s been thrown in my face over and over again for the last few years. ‘If you don’t do this, this is going to happen,’” she said Serrano has told her.

Epoch Times Photo
Santa Ana Mayor Pro Tem Jessie Lopez and Councilwoman Thai Viet Phan speak about recalls against them at City Hall in Santa Ana, Calif., on Jan. 30, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Councilmember Cecilia Iglesias was successfully recalled in May 2020 for, in part, voting against a pay hike for the police union a year prior. The union was behind the effort and funded the recall campaign, according to public filings.

“Now this playbook is being unleashed all over again,” Lopez said.

Phan additionally told The Epoch Times that unnamed “corporate landlords” are also behind the recalls, wanting to overturn the city’s rent control—a policy she and Lopez support.

Fellow Councilman Johnathan Hernandez said at the press conference that when signature gathering begins for the recalls, he may help organize people to “take to the streets” in protest.

Epoch Times Photo
Santa Ana City Councilman Johnathan Ryan Hernandez speaks about a recall launched against his council colleagues at City Hall in Santa Ana, Calif., on Jan. 30, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Additionally, Orange County Supervisor and former Santa Ana Mayor Vicente Sarmiento said Phan and Lopez are being “unfairly attacked.”

“This isn’t a labor issue. This isn’t a union issue,” he said during the press conference. “What the police union president is doing is undermining what labor has been working on for so long, to make sure that there is an equal footing that we can bargain collectively.”

In December, Phan, Lopez, Hernandez, and Councilmember Benjamin Vazquez voted for the city’s last, best, and final offer, which included a 3 percent salary increase for union members, along with medical, dental, and long-term disability insurance benefits, among other items—costing the city an estimated $1.2 million, according to city staff.

Epoch Times Photo
Orange County Supervisor Vicente Sarmiento speaks about Santa Ana City Councilmembers’ recalls at City Hall in Santa Ana, Calif., on Jan. 30, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

The union had previously requested for a different package which would have cost around $25 million, according to city officials.

Next the committee will file a petition for the recalls and, when approved by the City Clerk’s office, have 120 days to collect 4,800 valid signatures for Phan and 4,000 for Lopez to force a special election.

Representatives from the Santa Ana Police Officers Association and Serrano were not immediately available for comment.