LAUSD teachers authorize strike for higher wages, better work environments


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Teachers from the Los Angeles Unified School District plan on going on strike for “UTLA’s Last, Best, & Final Offer,” a proposal for better wages and working conditions that LAUSD rejected.

Rudraj Koppikar

Teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) voted overwhelmingly this past week to authorize a strike after 16 months of negotiations.

“The proposals that the district have come to the table with a year and a half ago are exactly the same and haven’t moved in any meaningful way,” said Jennifer Walker, Daniel Pearl Magnet High School’s (DPMHS) union representative. “We’ve been without a contract that entire time. So everything that we’ve negotiated in years past we can’t even hold them to because the contract expired.”

Every three years, the union for teachers in LAUSD, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) representing 33,000 educators, renegotiates its contract with the district. The previous contract expired at the end of June 2017 and negotiations began in April 2017. The contract covers everything from class size to a salary increase to the district’s policy on charter and magnet schools. Without a contract, the district is not obliged to follow its clauses and could withdraw without warning.

LAUSD has already reached agreements with Service Employees International Union and Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, the union for service employees such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers and the union for administrators such as principals, respectively.

In a press release on the strike authorization vote, UTLA expanded on the biggest demands which are deadlocked upon: smaller class sizes, improved school safety, increased per pupil spending, funding for community schools, a reduction in mandatory testing and checking the expansion of charter schools.

The last bargaining proposal named “UTLA’s Last, Best, & Final Offer” was proposed on July 24 and rejected by LAUSD, which stated that conceding to demands would increase the district’s current deficit of $504 million by $813 million, thus draining LAUSD’s current reserve of $1.2 billion and bankrupting it.

The union has asserted that the district has $1.7 billion in reserves, not $1.2 billion, but the district has rejected this claim. In a release titled “Just the Facts,” the district stated that it had offered UTLA the chance to audit its finances. Walker, however, stated that the $1.7 billion figure was drawn from the district’s own budget realize.

The district has offered a two percent raise to teachers, but the union has remained steadfast in its demand of a six and a half percent raise.

The vote passed with 98% of votes voting in favor of a strike. However, the strike being authorized does not necessarily mean a strike will follow. It increases the bargaining power of UTLA and allows it to perhaps negotiate a more favorable deal, according to Walker. If negotiations are at a standstill despite the vote, teachers have been informed to be strike-ready by Oct. 4.

The vote follows a spate of teachers striking in other states for increased wages and better working conditions. West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona and Colorado are states that have seen teachers strike. If LAUSD teachers strike, it will become the district’s largest one since 1989; LAUSD teachers haven’t gone on strike since then. The strike by UTLA would be different from strikes in other states, according to LAUSD, in the way that the strikes in other states were to protest low spending by state legislature while UTLA would be protesting the district instead of the state.

On Aug. 28, the district filed an unfair practice charge with the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) against UTLA, stating that UTLA has held a strike vote before the two held their first mediation session against PERB guidelines. A mediation date has been set for Sept. 27. If an agreement can not be reached despite mediation, students can expect a strike to occur in October unless the district agrees to UTLA’s demands.

UTLA has not responded to a request for comment.