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Crying ‘Scabstitute!’ ~ Union Rallies Substitute Teachers Ahead of Possible Strike

[dropcap size=big]M[/dropcap]ore than 200 substitute teachers packed a drab conference room on the second floor of an equally drab office building in Koreatown – the official headquarters of United Teachers Los Angeles, the union representing some 34,000 educators on the verge of a massive strike. An overhead projector screen and a Black Lives Matter poster decorated the back wall.

The union organized the meeting Friday just days before tens of thousands of teachers could go on strike January 10. An 11th hour agreement to meet district negotiators on Monday at City Hall was confirmed during the meeting. Mayor Eric Garcetti is expected to mediate the months-long standoff between L.A. Unified and the union.

Los Angeles Unified has repeatedly asserted that the school-year will continue even if the teachers do strike. The district has also filed a motion asking a federal judge to bar special education teachers from striking, arguing it would leave students with special needs without care.

UTLA and their supporters marched by the thousands last month to the steps of City Hall. All photos by Philip Iglauer.
UTLA and their supporters marched by the thousands last month to the steps of City Hall. All photos by Philip Iglauer.

Friday's meeting was held on the heels of news that the school district had hired 400 additional substitutes on top of its 2,000 credentialed, non-teaching staff. Talk of the new substitute hires by the district was greeted in the room with derision and hollers of “Scabstitute!”

Most in the crowd were enthusiastically supportive of the union and a possible strike, but a standout few were skeptical, even critical of how they say they are treated by union officials and their teacher colleagues.

“I heard someone describe us not even as teachers, we’re just ‘substitutes,’ so thank you for calling us, substitute educators,” one woman said.

Many substitutes in the room said they’re worried they could lose healthcare benefits as a result of missing work days in January because of a strike.

“We are going to fight to try to make sure that no substitute employee is penalized in terms of the number of days they accrue towards their 100 because of the strike,” said Brian McNamara, UTLA’s field and organizing director. “That’s our position and we’re going to fight for it.”

RELATED: How We Got Here: L.A. Teachers Vote on Authorizing Their First Strike in A Generation

Subs have to work 100 full days, or 600 hours, during the school year to keep their health insurance benefits. They also have to work at least once during each pay period.

“Last time I was in this room, UTLA was talking about not wanting subs in the union,” said an older woman who stood up and said at the start of the discussion. “What I want to know is, are the subs going to be thrown under the bus in the negotiation?”

UTLA is one of only a handful of teacher unions in the country that includes substitutes among its 34,000 teacher members. The union has been locked in tough negotiations for more than 20 months with the L.A. school district for a new contract. With no deal in sight, teachers in December vowed to go on strike in the first week after students and teachers return from winter vacation on Monday.

RELATED: L.A. Teachers To Strike Jan. 10: Union Launches Fusillade of Attacks Over Fact-Finding ‘Lies’

Union officials passed around a “We Will Strike If We Have To” pledge form for people to sign, which asked substitutes to put in writing a promise to stand with their colleagues and not cross picket lines.

“We believe that it is illegal for the district to hire people outside our bargaining unit to teach in LAUSD classrooms,” UTLA said in a statement on Dec. 28 about those new hires. “It is even more irresponsible to think that 400 substitutes can educate more than 600,000 students.”

It is unclear whether those new hires come from outside the district or whether some of them are from the 2,000 substitutes represented by UTLA. That added to mistrust between regular union teachers and substitutes. Others in the room expressed fear of getting dropped from long-term teaching assignments if they strike with their colleagues.

“Fear, uncertainty, and doubt is what the district is going to continue to try to spread to undermine what we’re doing,” said union chief Alex Caputo-Pearl. “Our greatest weapon is our solidarity. The district’s greatest weapon is creating fear, uncertainty and doubt.”

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

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