LOS ANGELES, Calif.—The United Teachers Los Angeles union says there was “no movement” in last-minute talks Jan. 7 with the Los Angeles Unified School District. Another session is scheduled for Jan. 9, the day before the 34,000-member union is scheduled to strike.
The two sides are closer on pay than on other issues. The LAUSD is offering a three-year contract retroactive to 2017 with a total of 6% in raises, while UTLA wants a fully retroactive 6.5% raise. The conflict is deeper over changes that would require additional funding, such as smaller class sizes and more support staff like counselors and nurses. The district says it does not have the money to pay for that—but UTLA counters that it has $1.86 billion in reserves.
“UTLA will engage in whatever talks are possible to avoid a strike, but the district must be willing to spend a substantial portion of its record-breaking $1.9 billion reserve to serve our students and must engage our full package of proposals rather than dismiss them,” UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said in a statement Jan. 6.
He told a rally and press conference Jan. 7 that the district’s most recent proposal was “unacceptable.” The UTLA leader said it would make the 6% raise contingent on health-care cuts; that it would allow classes with as many as 39 students in elementary schools and 46 in secondary schools; that the number of school nurses it would add would still leave the system with less than one per school, and their jobs would be guaranteed for only one year; and that it “continues to not take seriously the issues of privatization and unregulated charter growth.”
UTLA has called for a moratorium on new charter schools, and Caputo-Pearl charged that School Superintendent Austin Beutner “has a plan to privatize the district.”
Legal actions could delay the walkout. The district on Jan. 2 asked the state Public Employment Relations Board for an injunction to stop the strike on the grounds that UTLA did not give it the 10 days’ notice required by state law. The union says that is “unsubstantiated,” that it informed the district on Dec. 19. Members authorized a strike in August, with more than 98% of members voting supporting it.
Beutner, Caputo-Pearl said in a statement, “is desperate to contain our collective power, and the only way he knows how to do it is through costly legal maneuvers.”
However, UTLA said that depending on the outcome, “the Jan. 10 strike date could be moved a few days later.”
A federal court on Jan. 4 dismissed a previous LAUSD bid for a pre-emptive injunction, this one to prevent special-education teachers from going on strike.
The district, which comprises public and charter schools in Los Angeles and a few Los Angeles County suburbs, is the second-largest in the nation. Its last teachers strike was in 1989, but teachers have been working under an expired contract since June 2017.
LAUSD officials say they plan to keep schools open if there is a strike, and have hired 400 substitutes to fill in. UTLA’s members include 2,000 substitutes, some of whom derisively call the would-be replacements “scabstitutes.”