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Teachers in Los Angeles flex their muscle, move closer to going on strike

2018 has become a year when teachers show their clout.

Members of the Los Angeles teachers' union voted to authorize a strike on August 31, 2018. CREDIT: David McNew/Getty Images
Members of the Los Angeles teachers' union voted to authorize a strike on August 31, 2018. CREDIT: David McNew/Getty Images

In overwhelming fashion, teachers in Los Angeles voted to authorize a strike over pay, class size, and the city’s push toward charter schools, the union announced late Friday.

Ninety-eight percent of the union, the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), voted to approve a strike authorization, and 81 percent of the members cast ballots in the week-long vote. The UTLA represents about 31,000 teachers, nurses, librarians, counselors, social workers and psychologists in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).

The vote does not necessarily mean a strike will occur. However, it does give the union’s board of directors the power to call one without returning to the membership for approval. If the union chooses to strike, it would be the first since a nine-day work stoppage in 1989.

Teachers across the country have been taking action against cutbacks in education funding. In 2018, strikes have occurred in West VirginiaJersey City, and Oklahoma, with Colorado and Arizona also becoming battlegrounds for education funding.

“Educators are frustrated and angry” after almost a year and a half of bargaining with the Los Angeles school district, Arlene Inoyue, chair of the teacher union’s bargaining team, said Friday in a statement. “We want a district that partners with us — not fights us — on critical issues like lower class sizes, fair pay, and bringing more staff to work with our students,” she said.

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With about 1,150 schools, the Los Angeles school district is the second largest in the United States; New York City’s is the largest. The district serves more than 734,000 students, including 107,00 students at independent charter schools.

The union is seeking a 6.5 percent pay raise that would include retroactive pay and not phased-in gradually. The union also wants to reduce class sizes by hiring more teachers and add many more nurses, librarians, and counselors.

But the school district has said these proposals would send the school system into immediate insolvency, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.

In a statement Friday, the LAUSD said that unions representing most other types of employees in the district have reached contract settlements.

“L.A. Unified has reached agreements with labor partners which represent more than 60 percent of the District’s employees, which include salary increases totaling about 6 percent and we are prepared to offer the same to UTLA members,” the district said.

Teachers are asking for reductions in standardized testing and a $500 stipend for materials and supplies. They are also interested in expanding charter school accountability, and spending more money on ethnic studies and bilingual education, according to a recent open letter from the union.

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In July, the union accused the school system of being “dominated by pro-privatization ideologues” according to the Los Angeles Daily News.

LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner met with the head of the teachers union, Alex Caputo-Pearl. After the meeting, Caputo-Pearl said the school system’s contract offers were insufficient. The union then sent an open letter to Beutner saying that the district is “refusing to meet with a state-appointed mediator in a timely fashion.”

On Friday, the school district said the state Public Employment Relations Board has set September 27 for mediation, “as prescribed by California law, and we are looking forward to reaching an agreement.”

Alejandra Delgadillo, a parent of a student at Trinity Elementary in Los Angeles, said she sees what teachers take out of their pockets every week to spend on their classrooms.

“But they are fighting for much more than just a pay raise — they are fighting for a better education for our children,” Delgadillo said in a statement. “As a parent, I hope a strike won’t be necessary, but I support the teachers if it does come to that. It will be a short-term sacrifice for my children’s long-term future.”