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L.A. Schools, UTLA End Mediation With No Deal, Leaving Grim Scenario For What Happens Next

2:20 PM PDT on October 16, 2018

[dropcap size=big]N[/dropcap]egotiators for the Los Angele Unified School District and the union representing its 30,000 educators have failed to break an impasse over a new labor contract after their final session of required mediation ended Friday, with each side blaming the other for bargaining in bad faith.

They’ve taken the last step toward a possible teacher strike: fact-finding.

“The school district claims it can’t afford these very basic student needs,” said UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl in a statement. “We are ready to go to fact-finding and force the district to defend its position.” Members of United Teachers Los Angeles have already voted to empower their leadership to call a strike, which would be a first in the city in over a generation. It could also leave some 600,000 kids without a classroom to go to.

But it could take weeks before the district and the teachers union can face off in the street. “Fact-finding can take as many as 40 business days if all the deadlines are maximized,” UTLA announced Sunday over Twitter.

Ever since the two sides sat down in January 2017 to negotiate a new contract for L.A. teachers, they have been carefully laying out their arguments and hardening their respective positions. While a mediator was invited to settle their dispute, it’s not the job of a mediator to decide who’s right or wrong, but rather to focus on finding a possible settlement. That’s not the case in fact-finding.

In fact-finding, an arbiter looks at the evidence and each side’s argument and decides who’s got the better case and make recommendations.

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he fact-finding phase is led by a three-person panel, a state-appointed chairperson, one UTLA representative and one representative from LAUSD. After a period of time, the chairperson makes a ruling of sorts — actually, a recommendation based on  evidence presented by each side — a critical element in this case is that the recommendations are non-binding.

UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl (left) and L.A. schools superintendent Austin Beutner (right).

Acrimony between LAUSD and UTLA is currently so palpable it’s hard to see how fact-finding will avert a strike.

“UTLA has never negotiated in good faith,” said David Holmquist, general counsel for the district in its negotiations with the teachers union, in a statement.

“UTLA has distorted and mischaracterized the facts regarding the offer Los Angeles Unified has made to UTLA, the financial status of Los Angeles Unified, and the negotiation process – recasting the evidence to suggest Los Angeles Unified has been unyielding, when in fact, it is UTLA that has refused all efforts to work out a solution,” he said.

However grim the LAUSD-UTLA drama looks, there is a glimmer of sunshine, says Tim Yeung, a public sector labor attorney at the firm Sloan Sakai, in a report by LAist. UTLA and LAUSD met for more than one session with a mediator. That’s a good sign.

“Until they get through fact-finding there is always hope,” Yeung says.

RELATED: ‘They Can’t Be Trusted’: L.A. Teachers Reject Latest District Raise Offer

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