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Amid Court Battles, Los Angeles Teachers' Union Postpones Strike

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Updated

The Los Angeles teachers' union has pushed back its strike date four days, to Monday, Jan. 14.

Los Angeles teachers have been gearing up for a strike over a salary increase, class-size reductions, and more support staff for months, with plans to walk out of the classroom on Jan 10. But the last-minute change comes as United Teachers Los Angeles is fighting the Los Angeles Unified school district in court about whether the union provided the legally required notice of its intent to strike. 

The court had not made a decision by midday Wednesday, but the union decided to voluntarily postone the strike date. 

"[W]e do not want to bring confusion and chaos into an already fluid situation," said UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl in a statement. "Although we believe we would ultimately prevail in court, for our members, our students, parents, and the community, absent an agreement we will plan to strike on Monday."

An agreement seems increasingly unlikely. A Wednesday bargaining session—the second this week—was unsuccessful, Caputo-Pearl said in a press briefing. 

"We did not see seriousness on the part of the school district to try to resolve this contract struggle," he said.

Caputo-Pearl criticized the fact that Superintendent Austin Beutner wasn't at the bargaining table on Wednesday. Beutner was in Sacramento, along with Board of Education President Mónica García, to meet with California state officials to advocate for more funding. 

"We are working hard to avert a strike," Beutner said in a statement. "We are building support at the state level to find more resources to help our students and better support all who work in our schools."

But Caputo-Pearl said he wasn't impressed. "Yes, it's important to do work in Sacramento," he said. "We don't go to Sacramento when we are a day, or a couple days, away from a potential strike. We focus on Los Angeles at that point."

The next bargaining session will be on Friday. Caputo-Pearl said the union has asked the district to bring a new proposal to the table. 

In the bargaining session on Monday, the union dropped a few of its proposals, including its call to reduce required standardized tests, and the district agreed to add nearly 1,000 teachers, counselors, nurses, and librarians to the district's more than 900 schools.

But the union called the offer unacceptable and inadequate. Meanwhile, the district has said it can't afford UTLA's demands. 

UTLA has pointed to the district's nearly $2 billion reserve, saying the district should spend that money on improving learning conditions for students. However, according to the district, $500 million of that money is already earmarked for federal and state-required programs, and an additional $500 million is being used to give all employees, including teachers, a 6 percent raise and to pay for new support staff positions.

Los Angeles Unified will only have about $800 million left by July 2019, the district has said. And that will be "completely depleted" by the 2021-2022 school year.

UTLA is also asking the district to deliver three informational briefings on Friday: on student enrollment, on the district's plan for community schools (campuses that provided wraparound services for students), and on Beutner's strategic plan to reimagine the school district, which hasn't been released to the public. 

Strike Plans

During a strike, schools will remain open, and students will continue to receive instruction and meals. Administrators and substitute teachers will provide instruction—likely in large spaces in schools, such as gyms and auditoriums.

Parents are also expected to volunteer in schools during a strike. On Tuesday, Los Angeles Unified's school board relaxed volunteer restrictions. According to the Los Angeles Times, the revised policy will make it easier and faster for volunteers to work in schools during an emergency (such as a strike)—a volunteer will just need to fill out a form and the district will check to make sure the person is not a registered sex offender. School board members said volunteers could help supervise students during a strike.

Meanwhile, UTLA is calling for parents to join teachers on the picket lines. "Having many parents and allies on picket lines will be powerful and transformative," a statement said.

Another L.A. Strike Ahead?

On Wednesday, UTLA announced that its members at three charter schools operated by the Accelerated Schools will strike on Tuesday, Jan. 15 if a contract agreement hasn't been reached. 

This would be the first charter school strike in Los Angeles, and the second charter strike in the nation. The first took place in Chicago last month, and ended with a union victory.

The teachers in the Accelerated Schools are asking for better health benefits and more job protections, according to a UTLA statement. 

Image: Thousands of teachers march in downtown Los Angeles on Dec. 15, in preparation for a strike. —Damian Dovarganes/AP

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