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Strike Postponed Until Monday ~ Teachers Strike Update

[dropcap size=big]L[/dropcap]eaders of the union representing 34,000 teachers and the Los Angeles Unified School District again fell short of an agreement on a new contract Wednesday after meeting in yet another last-ditch effort to avoid the first teachers' strike in Los Angeles since 1989.

They did manage to agree to go back to the bargaining table on Friday morning at UTLA headquarters in Koreatown.

United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex-Caputo Pearl told reporters outside district headquarters that he had problems with the district’s latest proposal, not least of which was the fact that LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner and Chief Labor Negotiator Vivian Ekchian did not attend the meeting.

“When those heavy hitters on the district side are not at the table there is a lack of seriousness,” Caputo-Pearl said. “We don’t go to Sacramento when we are a day or a couple of days away from a potential strike. We focus on Los Angeles at that point.”

Beutner and Ekchian were instead in Sacramento for meetings with representatives of Gov. Gavin Newsom and state legislators.

Thursday morning, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled that the union could move forward with a strike now scheduled for Monday, January 14.

Lawyers for the district and the teachers union spent the past three days in court battling over an injunction by the district to delay the teacher walkout originally scheduled for Thursday, January 10. At issue was whether the union gave LAUSD a legally required 10-day notice that its members would stop working under the existing contract.

The teachers union preempted a possible injunction by unilaterally postponing the strike to Monday. 

“While we believe we would eventually win in court against all of Austin Beutner’s anti-union, high-priced attempts to stop our legal right to strike, in order for clarity and to allow members, parents, and our communities to plan, UTLA is moving the strike date to Monday,” the union said in a statement on Wednesday.

One of major points of contention is the district’s $1.8 billion reserve and how to spend it if at all, and how to address class size reductions. The district’s latest offer is to reduce class sizes by spending spending $105 million of the reserve by hiring more teachers and support staffing.

Caputo-Pearl said “fundamental credibility issues were raised around numbers that the district is using” during today’s bargaining session. Scott Price the Chief Financial Officer of LAUSD “refused to acknowledge there is not a deficit even though it is right there in black and white,” Caputo-Pearl said.

RELATED: ‘Tacos For Teachers’ Seeks to Feed Teachers If They Hit the Picket Lines

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

The union has been pushing the district to tap into an estimated $1.8 billion reserve fund to hire more staff and reduce class sizes, but Beutner insisted that the reserve money is already tied up in raises for other unions, a potential 6 percent raise for UTLA, money to help run an operating deficit, and other issues.

The union has avoided naming a specific dollar figure that should be spent from the reserve, but Caputo-Pearl hinted what a ballpark figure might look like in response to questions from reporters on Wednesday.  “Even if you took just 15 percent of the $2 billion reserve you would be able to make some real differences in class size,” he said, adding “Now that’s not talking about health and human services.”

Fifteen percent of the $1.8 billion reserve would translate to $270 million in additional spending to reduce class sizes.This would indicate that the sides are $163 million apart. Caputo-Pearl said the union is also willing to meet over the weekend if no deal is made on Friday to bridge their differences.

Underscoring the major issues between the union and the district is a fundamental lack of trust, and suspicion among teachers that Beutner plans to break of LAUSD and privatize public education in L.A., issues technically outside the scope of contract bargaining.

“If you look at places like New Orleans, Detroit, Indianapolis, their school systems were dismantled in about one year,” Caputo-Pearl said. “So, we need to know what kind of restructuring plan that is to inform what kind of an agreement we can make.”

[Updated: January 10, 2018]

RELATED: Who Is L.A. Teachers Union’s Chief Negotiator? ~ Meet Arlene Inouye

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