FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

LA Teacher’s Sit-In Over Layoffs

by SARAH KNOPP

Fifty teachers along with parent supporters disrupted a Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) School Board meeting March 10 and occupied the boardroom in an attempt to stop a vote on sending out “reduction in force” notices to almost 9,000 district employees.

Claiming a $718 million budget shortfall, the district is threatening to lay off teachers–both permanent and non-permanent–as well as counselors, administrators, custodial and support staff, and other district employees.

The board, led by Monica Garcia–an ally of LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa–slunk out of the boardroom and into an undisclosed location somewhere in the building. There, on display to the public only via a closed-circuit broadcast to the cafeteria of the building, they voted 5-2 to authorize Superintendent Ramon Cortines to send out the notices. Board members Julie Korenstein and Richard Vladovic dissented.

For the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) members who participated, the action was transformative.

We had planned the civil disobedience in advance, and the union paid for substitutes so that we could attend the board meeting. School board meetings always start at 1 p.m., so teachers attending is usually not possible.

The meetings take place in a room in a fancy glass building in the middle of downtown LA with seating for about 250. There are 740,000 students in LAUSD, so if only one-tenth of 1 percent of parents wanted to participate, the room would need to be three times bigger.

Most of us on the protest were seasoned activists, but when we chanted “One! Don’t cut the budget! Two! A little bit louder! Three! We need the money! Four! Our students!” for an hour in the hot sun before being permitted into the building, we all felt more angry, more energized and many times more confident than we had at such protests in the past. This time, they’d have to drag us out of there if they wanted to shut us up!

And while most of us were veterans whose jobs were not on the line, we were joined by a handful of probationary teachers who won’t be returning next year if the layoffs go through.

We were also joined in our civil disobedience by parents and grandparents who were organized by the community group ACORN. One of the protesters, 83-year-old Julia Botello, has 12 children and more than 30 grandchildren who have gone through the public school system. Four of her granddaughters are now teachers.

Julia had just stepped up to the mic to plead with board members not to make the cuts when they stood up to leave the room for their secret chambers. Later, surrounded by a dozen TV cameras, she said, “I’m calling on the president, the governor, and all those above us to help us…I want them to arrest me, if that’s what it takes to be heard.”

When the school board left the room, the media stayed. School police were ordered not to arrest teacher-occupiers while the media was still present, so we were never arrested. As UTLA President A.J. Duffy explained to reporters and participants:

Some people say that what we are doing today is improper. Was it improper when they did it in the civil rights movement? Was it improper when César Chávez used civil disobedience to force Gallo wine to meet the demands of the field workers? Isn’t this how India won its independence from the British Empire? In fact, this whole country that we love was born out of civil disobedience!

Then, each of the teachers present took turns standing up and explaining what would happen at their schools if the cuts went through. Gym teachers who have used their own paychecks to buy volleyballs, teachers with more than 40 students in remediation classes, and a cohort from a social justice academy at a large high school, afraid to lose the energy, drive and innovation of their newest teachers–all told their stories. Teachers made it clear that layoffs resulting in larger class sizes will be a disaster for students.

Since we had the boardroom occupied, we used the opportunity to debate strategies, tactics and the next actions we could take to escalate the fight and involve more parents and teachers. Afterwards, we joined a support rally outside. Students from three prominent high schools had organized a bus to bring them to the protest. The action drew widespread coverage in the local media.

* * *

THE SIT-IN was the latest in a series of actions by UTLA in the last few months.

On June 6 of last year, the union organized a one-hour strike to protest state budget cuts targeting schools. The next big action came December 10, when some 10,000 UTLA members demonstrated at seven regional school board offices to protest LAUSD’s insulting “last, best, and final offer” that threatened draconian cuts to teachers’ health care coverage.

Since then, UTLA and seven other school employee unions have reached a tentative agreement on health care, a deal that turns back LAUSD’s most aggressive demands. That agreement will soon be voted on by members.

In parallel bargaining, negotiators for the teachers and LAUSD are far apart on the main contract. Key issues are salary and a series of non-monetary demands dealing with workplace democracy, shared decision-making, rights for school counselors and substitutes, and a fair grievance procedure.

UTLA has been rebuilding the union’s capacity to fight since a reform leadership took over in 2005. Teachers won a 6 percent raise in the 2006-07 negotiations. The re-opener rounds in years two and three of our three-year contract have so far yielded nothing but offers of less than zero from the district.

Employees who receive pink slips will not definitely lose their jobs until after a final school board vote in June. Many hope that by then, federal stimulus money will have provided a way for LAUSD to avoid most of the layoffs.

But we intend to make it clear to the district that if they don’t find the money by any means necessary to save every single job, they will pay the price of massive unrest.

David Rapkin contributed to this article.

SARAH KNOPP is a public school teacher in Los Angeles.

This article originally appeared in the Socialist Worker.

 

May 04, 2016
Kshama Sawant
It’s Not About Bernie: Why We Can’t Let Our Revolution Die in Philadelphia
Conn Hallinan
Baiting the Bear: Russia and NATO
Joshua Frank
Hanford’s Leaky Nuke Tanks and Sick Workers, A Never-Ending Saga
Paul Craig Roberts
TIPP: Advancing American Imperialism
Ted Rall
Hillary to Bernie Supporters: Don’t Vote for Me!
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton and Wall Street’s Neoliberal War on Latin America
Leslie Scott
The Story of Jill Stein: Putting People, Peace and the Planet Before Profits
Ann Garrison
Building the Greens Into a Mass Party: Interview with Bruce Dixon
Tom Clifford
Crying Rape: Trump’s Slurs Against China
Lawrence Davidson
Getting Rid of Bad Examples: Andrew Jackson & Woodrow Wilson
Ellen Brown
Bank of North Dakota Soars Despite Oil Bust: A Blueprint for California?
Nelson Valdes
Is Fidel Castro Outside or Part of Mainstream Thinking? A Selection of Quotes
Jesse Jackson
Don’t Send Flint Down the Drain: Fix It!
Nathan Riley
Help Bernie Keep His Halo
Rivera Sun
Remembering Nonviolent History: Freedom Rides
Clancy Sigal
Rachel and the Isolationists: How Maddow Blew It
Laura Finley
Changing the Conversation About “The Woman Card”
CJ Hopkins
Coming this Summer … Revenge of the Bride of Sophie’s Choice
May 03, 2016
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Resumé: What the Record Shows
Michèle Brand – Arun Gupta
What is the “Nuit Debout”?
Chuck Churchill
The Failures of Capitalism, Donald Trump and Right Wing Terror
Dave Marsh
Bernie and the Greens
John Wight
Zionism Should be on Trial, Not Ken Livingstone
Rev. John Dear
A Dweller in Peace: the Life and Times of Daniel Berrigan
Patrick Cockburn
Saudi Arabia’s Great Leap Forward: What Would Mao Think?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Electoral Votes Matter: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders vs Donald Trump
Chris Gilbert
Venezuela Today: This Must Be Progress
Pepe Escobar
The Calm Before the Coming Global Storm
Ruth Fowler
Intersecting with the Identity Police (Or Why I Stopped Writing Op-Eds)
Victor Lasa
The Battle Rages on in Spain: the Country Prepares for Repeat Elections in June
Jack Rasmus
Is the US Economy Heading for Recession?
Dean Baker
Time for an Accountable Federal Reserve
Ted Rall
Working for US Gov Means Never Saying Sorry
Dave Welsh
Hunger Strikers at Mission Police Station: “Stop the execution of our people”
John Eskow
The Death of Prince and the Death of Lonnie Mack
May 02, 2016
Michael Hudson – Gordon Long
Wall Street Has Taken Over the Economy and is Draining It
Paul Street
The Bernie Fade Begins
Ron Jacobs
On the Frontlines of Peace: the Life of Daniel Berrigan
Louis Yako
Dubai Transit
Bill Quigley
Teacher, Union Leader, Labor Lawyer: Profile of Chris Williams Social Justice Advocate
Patrick Cockburn
Into the Green Zone: Iraq’s Disintegrating Political System
Lawrence Ware
Trump is the Presidential Candidate the Republicans Deserve
Ron Forthofer
Just Say No to Corporate Rule
Ralph Nader
The Long-Distance Rebound of Bernie Sanders
Ken Butigan
Remembering Daniel Berrigan, with Gratitude
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail