The United Teachers Los Angeles union is planning to call on the Los Angeles Unified School District’s 30,000 teachers to walk out on students over demands for higher pay and increased staff.
UTLA bosses are holding steady to a threatened strike this week as both sides argue about the legality of the move in court and specifics of a new labor contract in the negotiating room.
The Los Angeles Daily News reports:
No one issue separates the two sides. They have been negotiating for nearly two years without coming close to a resolution. They’ve already gone through mediation and a fact-finding session in recent months. …
The LAUSD said it brought forward a new proposal Monday that would have added nearly 1,000 additional teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians, which the UTLA rejected. UTLA President Alex-Caputo Pearl told reporters he had several problems with the proposal and was surprised the district had ‘so little to offer. Unless something changes significantly there will be a strike in the city of L.A.’
District and union negotiators are set to continue negotiations today, but the UTLA has threatened to launch the strike as early as Thursday.
UTLA wants a 6.5 percent raise to start a two-year contract, as well as “significantly smaller class sizes” and more nurses, librarians, counselors and other staff. The union demands LAUSD “fully staff” schools, but do not define that expectation. LAUSD has offered a 6 percent raise over the first two years of a three-year contract, but officials contend totality of the union’s demands would bankrupt the district, the Associated Press reports.
LAUSD faces a projected half-billion dollar deficit this year that’s largely tied to obligations outlined in the current union contract, including generous pension payments and health coverage for retired teachers, according to the news service.
LA teachers currently collect a salary of between $44,000 and $86,000 per year, with the average teacher salary at $75,000, though the UTLA contract spells out numerous other bonuses, incentives, salary credits, mileage payments, vacation buyouts, differentials, stipends, mentor pay and other payments for union educators.
A head football coach, for example, gets an extra $2,811, while a mentoring principal gets an extra $3,060. Educators also receive pay bumps when they earn college credits, and “step increases” for simply making it through the school year.
The current contract requires taxpayers to cover the full cost of health coverage for UTLA members, as well as both the employer and employee retirement contributions. Caps on class sizes – which determine staffing levels and the number of dues-paying UTLA members – are also spelled out in the contract.
LAUSD negotiators are working to control those costs with a precarious financial future looming ahead and offered UTLA $30 million to hire additional school staff, but the union is eyeing a much bigger number.
“The union has been pushing the district to tap into an estimated $1.8 billion reserve fund to hire more staff and reduce class sizes,” the Daily News reports. “LAUSD says the staffing increases being demanded by the union would cost an estimated $786 million a year, further depleting a district already facing a $500 million deficit.”
Aside from the financial aspects, the union contract makes it especially difficult for district administrators to terminate tenured teachers, regardless of whether they’re a danger to students or staff.
Many parents and education activists argue the inability to terminate bad teachers is a major reason why 52 percent of LAUSD schools earned a D or F in English language arts, 50 percent earned a D or F in math, and just 40 percent of all students graduate college or career ready, according to state data.
Until the Supreme Court clarified the law last year, public employees like teachers were required to contribute to unions whether they wanted to or not. The change served a massive blow to teachers unions that monopolize public schools, and many responded with rallies and protests to reassert union dominance.
Those protests produced some victories in places like West Virginia, where teachers received a raise, and unions in more conservative states like Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado and Washington built on the momentum.
Caputo-Pearl told the AP the movement helped to embolden UTLA members to demand more, as well.
“Each state is different, but the commonality across all states is teachers and parents are sick of schools not being invested in,” he said.
LAUSD has hired 12,000 substitutes to help keep schools open if UTLA teachers turn their backs on students, while the school board is making it easier to get volunteers in schools to help out if they take to the picket lines.
If UTLA bosses pull the trigger, it will be the first strike in the nation’s second largest school district in 30 years.
Larry Sand, a former teacher and founder of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, recently noted that the last UTLA strike in 1989, orchestrated by union boss Wayne Johnson, ultimately propelled him to the more powerful position of president of the statewide California Teachers Association.