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Los Angeles Teachers Take First Step Toward Strike

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After contract negotiations between the Los Angeles teachers' union and the school district reached an impasse, the union announced it will conduct a strike authorization vote from Aug. 23 to 30. 

The Los Angeles Unified school district and the United Teachers Los Angeles have been negotiating a new contract for more than 16 months. On Aug. 3, the California Public Employees Relations Board confirmed that negotiations were in a deadlock. A state mediator has been appointed. 

In the meantime, the union is threatening, and preparing for, a strike. While a strike authorization vote would not automatically mean that teachers will head to the picket line, it would give union leaders the authority to call a strike if needed. It's a common tactic by unions to pressure the district during tense contract negotiations. 

"While we move forward with a state mediator, and continue to try to reach an agreement with the district—one that respects students, educators, and the community—we also must mobilize our members for a strike, if one becomes necessary," said Arlene Inouye, the chairwoman of the UTLA bargaining team, in a statement. 


Teacher Strikes: 4 Common Questions


Los Angeles teachers have been without a contract for about a year. The union is seeking a 6.5 percent pay raise retroactive to July 1, 2016. The union also wants class-size reductions, changes to the teacher-evaluation system, and more school nurses, librarians, and restorative-justice advisors. 

Other demands: add more ethnic studies and multicultural literature classes, give teachers complete discretion to determine which standardized assessments are used in their classroom (beyond those required by the state and federal government), and involve the union when deciding whether to house a charter school on the same campus as a traditional public school.

According to the union, the district has proposed a 2 percent ongoing salary increase, an additional one-time 2 percent bonus, and a $500 stipend for teachers to buy classroom supplies. The district has also offered to create a UTLA-LAUSD Ethnic Studies Task Force. LAUSD has not given any proposals to reduce class sizes, decrease the number of tests, or add more school nurses, counselors, social workers, and librarians, according to the union.

"We must continue to fight for a sustainable future, yet we don't have a partner in the very school district we are trying to save," UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said in a statement. "We have been pushing for real change, they are keeping the status quo."

But in an interview with the parent advocacy group, Speak Up, LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner pushed back against some of these demands. For example, he said, UTLA wants fewer magnet schools. But student outcomes at those schools are good, and the district wants more of them. LAUSD would not bargain with union leadership over which tests students take, Beutner said. And many of the union's demands are just too expensive, he added.

"They would like lower class sizes. So would we. They'd like a counselor in every school. So would we. They cost money, OK?," Beutner said. "On the economic issues, if you add up what they proposed as a package—they told us this is a package, take it or leave it—the entire package would cost about $1 billion a year. We had no choice but to say no. If we had said yes, we would be bankrupt right now." 

The last teacher strike in Los Angeles was in 1989. At the American Federation of Teachers' conference this summer, Caputo-Pearl said that being a "fighting union" is one of the best tools union leaders have to recruit new members, after a U.S. Supreme Court decision made it so unions can no longer charge "agency" or "fair share" fees to nonmembers. (That means teachers can reap most of the benefits of union membership without paying any union dues or fees.)

Union analyst Mike Antonucci is predicting that the Los Angeles teachers' union will strike during the second week of October. 

Corrected: A previous version of this article misstated who conducted the interview with LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner. It was conducted by Speak Up, a grassroots organization for parents, and republished by the LA School Report. 

Image: UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl speaks at the American Federation of Teachers convention in July. Photo by Elliott Cramer/AFT. Courtesy of the American Federation of Teachers, all rights reserved.

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