By Wave Wire Services
LOS ANGELES — After nearly two years of failed negotiations, mediation and fact-finding sessions, the union representing 33,000 Los Angeles Unified School District teachers announced Dec. 19 it will go on strike Jan. 10 unless an 11th-hour labor deal is reached.
United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl said there has been no movement from the district on key issues for months, and the union has reached the point of “enough is enough.” He said the union has “not accepted the district’s offer to go back to the table.”
“We’re not going to go back and do what we’ve already done for 20 months and sustain more disrespect,” he said.
Caputo-Pearl said the union will strike “unless we see an addressing of the crucial issues that shape education,” such as class sizes, hiring of nurses and counselors, “common-sense regulation” on charter schools and reductions in standardized testing.
If the union does walk out, it will be the first LAUSD teachers strike since 1989.
The announcement came one day after the release of a fact-finder’s report that sparked more verbal jawing between UTLA and the district.
The fact-finding report recommended adoption of a 6 percent salary increase, with 3 percent retroactive to July 1, 2017, and the other 3 percent retroactive to July 1, 2018. The LAUSD issued a statement Dec. 18 saying the teachers’ union “has agreed to the 6 percent salary raise” and suggesting the agreement on that issue “can provide the basis for a reasonable settlement of the remaining items.”
Later that afternoon, however, UTLA issued a response insisting “no agreement — salary or otherwise — has been reached between UTLA and LAUSD.”
Caputo-Pearl reiterated that stance the next day, accusing LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner of engaging in “stunts.”
“He continues to try to bargain through the media,” Caputo-Pearl said. “He claims offers were made that were never made. He even said we agreed on a salary that we didn’t.”
According to the district, the union had twice communicated acceptance of the 6 percent salary offer included in the fact-finding report — once by a union representative on the fact-finding panel and again through a UTLA Facebook post saying that a massive union march in downtown Los Angeles Dec. 15 was held to demand, in part, “a 6 percent pay raise.”
“Los Angeles Unified remains committed to bargaining with UTLA and believes the fact finder report can provide the basis for reasonable settlement of the remaining items and hopes UTLA will engage in good-faith bargaining to find an agreement,” the district’s statement said. “Los Angeles Unified does not want a strike — which only UTLA can authorize — as a strike would harm students, families and communities most in need.”
UTLA officials have repeatedly stressed that salary is only one part of the contract dispute. The union had been pushing for a 6.5 percent pay increase retroactive to July 1, 2016.
But the union is also demanding contract language limiting class sizes; calling for more hiring of nurses, counselors and librarians; reductions in standardized testing; and accountability measures for charter schools.
District officials previously said the union’s contract proposal would increase the district’s $500 million deficit during the current school year by another $813 million.
In response, the union has criticized the district and Beutner, saying LAUSD has a “record-breaking” reserve fund of about $1.8 billion that should be tapped to make improvements in school staffing.
The fact-finder’s report recommended that the district allocate funds — estimated by the district at $30 million — to reduce class sizes and hire more nurses, librarians and counselors. It also calls for the creation of a working group so the district and UTLA can develop contract language relating to class sizes.
“There is no doubt that the union’s demands at this point are expensive and the parties are not in agreement on how to cost this item, which will be key to its resolution,” the fact-finder’s report said. “My recommendation for settlement involves the dedication of a percentage of money to be used for the employment of teachers and other staff to reduce class size and provide additional student access to the services of librarians, nurses and professional staff.”
The district and UTLA have each accused the other of bad-faith bargaining in recent months, with each filing complaints with the state Public Employment Relations Board. Caputo-Pearl said the union would be filing another one against the district stemming from the purported agreement on a 6 percent salary hike.
On Dec. 17, the board issued a complaint against UTLA, saying the union had “failed and refused to bargain in good faith.” The complaint states that the union had repeatedly altered its positions — including once by withdrawing its acceptance of proposed language on “substitute and half-time leaves” and in other instances by adding new language on local school decision-making and bi-literacy programs.
This article originally appeared in the Wave Newspapers.