LA Teachers’ Strike: Dispatch #1


Absent a dramatic change in the Los Angeles Unified School District’s bargaining position, over 30,000 Los Angeles teachers will strike on Thursday, January 10.

With nearly half a million students at over 1,000 schools, LAUSD is America’s second largest school district. LAUSD and United Teachers of Los Angeles have been negotiating since April, 2017 and are still far apart, and teachers have been working without a contract for 18 months.

California’s Public Employment Relations Board issued its factfinding report in mid-December—the last step before UTLA could legally strike—and the neutral factfinder affirmed many key UTLA positions. On December 15 over 50,000 parents, students, and teachers rallied in downtown LA in support of UTLA.

Key issues in the strike include: inflated class sizes, a lack of full-time nurses in 80 percent of Los Angeles schools, a lack of librarians, and a student-counselor ratio so bad that UTLA’s demand is to bring it down to 500-1. UTLA seeks to get rid of Section 1.5 of our contract which allows LAUSD to set aside negotiated class size averages and caps in event of a financial crisis. LAUSD has repeatedly and spuriously invoked this, and UTLA has demanded its removal.

LAUSD and UTLA are meeting tomorrow (Monday 1/7) in a last-ditch attempt to avoid a strike. Beyond the fact that LAUSD has refused to offer UTLA anything substantive and reasonable, in recent days a new problem has emerged—LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner’s conflicting statements.

Beutner sent a letter to parents that said one thing. He made statements in the media which said another. A few days ago teachers received a letter from LAUSD which not only was inconsistent with other LAUSD letters and statements from the past few days, but even contradicted itself.

Part of what UTLA wants is for LAUSD to get its story straight so we can figure out what is actually on the table. Hopefully that will happen tomorrow. UTLA has not received a formal contract offer since October. UTLA’s description of the details of that official offer can be seen here.

The key section of Beutner’s new letter to LAUSD teachers deals with what “LAUSD is offering UTLA members”—it can be seen here. There are perhaps a couple minor positives. Here it is, point by point:

1) “6% raise with no contingencies.” As of right now, there are two contingencies–that we do 12 hours of extra Professional Development, and that the requirements be raised for retiree healthcare for new teachers. If Beutner is dropping any contingencies, that is a small step forward. However, that is unclear—see point #5.

Even with the district’s 6% offer, we’re still making significantly less than we were 10 years ago. After nearly two years of negotiating, LAUSD did finally offer us a conditional 6%. Far from being some kind of victory, this is the absolute minimum to which we are entitled. The US government announced an inflation rate of 2.8% for last year. A 6% “raise” over three years only serves to (mostly) keep up with rising prices, and only means we’re not getting a de facto pay cut via inflation. It’s nothing to applaud about.

Bottom line: Possibly a small step forward.

2) “No additional work or professional development required to receive the raise.” It was inappropriate that this was ever included, and the neutral factfinder recommended it be dropped. It’s a positive that Beutner expresses his willingness to drop it.

Bottom line: A small step forward.

3) “Back pay for 2017-2018.” Since we’ve been working without a contract for 18+ months, this simply pays us the money we would have had had LAUSD made us a real contract offer back then. For a long time LAUSD offered no raise at all. This backpay was in their last offer, from October, and it’s something we should have had 18 months ago anyway.

Bottom line: Nothing/no gain.

4) “Additional pay for teachers who take classes in areas that support students.” This has been there for a while. They’re trying to clarify/re-direct which courses we take to move up the salary scale.

Bottom line: Not significant.

5) “No changes to health benefits for current employees.” This sounds nice, except there is nothing being bargained on healthcare in this negotiation anyway. This may be included to try to make us think this is new. However, note “current employees.” This could be a sign that LAUSD still intends to raise the health benefit requirements for new employees. That is what was in their last offer, and it is unclear if LAUSD intends to remove this.

Bottom line: Deceptive and insignificant

6) “$30 million of additional funding to reduce class sizes and hire more counselors, nurses, and librarians.” The neutral factfinder had recommended doing something substantive on this issue, but this is very little. It amounts to less than 1/250th of LAUSD’s annual operating budget, and only 1/66th of their current reserve. As UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl recently explained, this would mean only one new staff person at only 1/3rd of LAUSD schools.

Bottom line: Not significant.

LAUSD can still avert this strike if it wishes to make UTLA a real offer. I’m hopeful, but I’m not optimistic.

Glenn Sacks is an LAUSD social studies teacher and UTLA co-chair at his high school.  He was recently recognized by LAUSD Deputy Superintendent Vivian Ekchian for “exceptional levels of performance.”

Glenn Sacks has a Master’s Degree in Latin American Studies, has traveled in Cuba, and has published columns in dozens of America’s largest newspapers.

 

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