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L.A. Teachers Strike Dispatch #9: What We Won

The United Teachers of Los Angeles strike was enormously popular, with tens of thousands of parents and students joining already full picketlines. There were many intangibles won, including but not limited to:

·       We learned that despite the PR hatchet job the anti-union, anti-public school forces have waged for the past 25 years, the general public still very much believes in public education and teachers.

·       The strike provided the opportunity to educate the public on the way their children are being shortchanged by the Los Angeles Unified School District, and our schools drained of funds by the charter industry.

·       Many LAUSD school administrators were won over to the teachers and the teachers’ union’s demands, and were unenthused—to say the least—about the current LAUSD leadership.

·       Much of the media has been sympathetic, even if they were not originally sympathetic to us.

·       LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner’s plan to break up LAUSD into 32 separate entities and charterize it—while not part of these contract negotiations—has suffered a serious blow. Maybe even Beutner himself is seeing his thinking begin to evolve.

·       We showed our strength as we head next year into the next battle—the battle to preserve our healthcare. LAUSD tried (unsuccessfully) to cut it last year, and the austerity attempts will be back.

·       In waging a strike not for money for ourselves but for money for our students, teachers reclaimed the moral authority they’ve always merited

But there were many important tangible victories, too. Instead of having to live with a lousy contract that continues to starve our schools of badly needed funds, we move forward with a contract that takes major steps towards addressing our schools’ needs. The agreement can be read at UTLA’s website here. Below some of the significant issues are discussed.

Class Sizes & Section 1.5

One of LAUSD’s most egregious practices is its repeated scrapping of contractually-agreed to class size limits. Section 1.5 of the contract allows the district to set aside these limits during a financial crisis. The district abuses this provision by claiming a dubious crisis to invoke 1.5 on an almost annual basis. This wounds children by ripping away dedicated teachers with whom they’ve built important bonds. It also raises class sizes.

UTLA prioritized eliminating this harmful clause. Several very knowledgeable people told us that LAUSD would “never” give up Section 1.5. When LAUSD and UTLA went before the California Public Employment Relations Board fact-finding panel in December, arbitrator David A. Weinberg, the Neutral Chair, came down on the side of UTLA on this issue.

Nonetheless, LAUSD held out as the strike approached and then well into the strike. At around 5:30 AM on Tuesday January 22—after roughly 20 straight hours of bargaining—LAUSD finally agreed to give up Section 1.5. From there the deal was easy to complete, and the Tentative Agreement was announced at 9:30 AM.

According to UTLA, “All class size caps are now based on an enforceable Memorandum of Understanding. The current MOU, which dates 2017-2018, is now enforceable.”   

On class sizes, the contract includes:

·       2019-2020: reduction of 1 student per grade level, and an immediate reduction in secondary from an unenforceable  46 to a now enforceable 39 for English Language Arts and Math.

·       2020-2021: reduction of 1 additional student per grade level (2 aggregate)

·       2021-2022: reduction of 2 additional students per grade level (4 aggregate)

UTLA contract guru Bruce Williams explains the class size reductions in some detail in this video.

Nurses

LAUSD will hire 150 fulltime nurses for 2019-2020 and at least 150 for 2020-2021, to provide a fulltime nurse at every school every day of the week.

Librarians

LAUSD will hire 41 full-time teacher librarians for 2019-2020 and at least 41 more for 2020-2021, to provide a full-time teacher librarian at every secondary school every day of the week.

Counselors

The district will hire additional full-time counselors by October 1, 2019 to achieve a counseling service ratio of 500-1 per secondary school.

Students’ limited access to their overscheduled counselors is made worse by counselors’ obligation to do yard duty during nutrition and lunch. One gain from UTLA’s victorious 1989 strike was the elimination of yard duty for teachers. We sought but did not get the same for counselors.

Early Education Workday

Under former LAUSD Superintendent John Deisy, who left LAUSD in 2014, the workday of all Early Educators was increased, without extra pay. They also did not enjoy a duty free lunch. The new contract provides them with an 8-hour workday inclusive of a 30-minute duty-free lunch.  

Testing

UTLA has protested the number of LAUSD-mandated standardized tests students are subjected to. (We have not made an issue of the tests mandated by the state and federal governments—that’s a battle for another time and place).

I’m not an expert on the subject, but numerous elementary school teachers have spoken out powerfully about being forced to give so many tests and teach to so many tests. As any educator will tell you, teaching to a test is the quickest way to kill a student’s interest in and love for a subject.

During negotiations LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said, “We do not believe this is something that we would, should or could bargain with labor over.”  Yet during the December 2018 state mediation, one member of the fact-finding panel was surprised to find that LAUSD couldn’t even answer basic questions about its own tests, such as the number, type, time spent, loss of instructional time, and cost of every test it requires students to take.

Under the new contract, beginning in the 2019-2020 school year, a joint UTLA/LAUSD committee will be created and tasked with identifying all district assessments. The committee will develop a plan to reduce the amount of assessments by 50%.
ROC/ROP Teacher Prep Period

Each teacher gets one planning period a day—a period in which they do not have a class to teach. However,Regional Occupation Center/Program (ROC/P) teachers don’t get one, limiting their ability to serve their students. UTLA’s demand has been that they get one, and this contact accomplishes this.

Transfers/Magnet Conversion

One problem that has concerned UTLA is that principals sometimes use Magnet conversions as a pretext/opportunity to get rid of teachers who they see as being union supporters, political opponents, “faculty room lawyers,” etc. What can happen is this:

A school with 1,500 students decides to open a Magnet for 400 students. Probably 300 or more of those students will come from the residential school, at least in its first years.

What should happen, obviously, is that some residential school teachers would simply move over to the magnet. What happens instead is that teachers are forced to reapply for their own jobs in order to get into the magnet—giving unscrupulous principals the opportunity to weed out the ones they see as being troublemakers.

In August Austin Beutner said, “UTLA would like to have fewer magnet schools. We think magnets are one of the best things we have going.” Like much of what Beutner said last year, this is only half true. UTLA does not oppose Magnet schools, we just don’t want the creation of Magnets to be used as a maneuver to get rid of teachers.

The billionaire-funded, anti-union website www.LASchoolReport.com says:

When schools convert to magnet status, teachers must reapply for their jobs, and many magnets require specialized skills. But UTLA is insisting that all teachers be allowed to remain at schools that convert to magnets.

This is just a pretext to attack UTLA and dismiss experienced teachers. In the vast majority of cases, there are no “specialized skills” required for a magnet.

I taught in our residential school for several years then moved over to our Magnet 18 months ago. Does our Spanish teacher in the Magnet teach different Spanish than what is taught in the residential school? Is there hugely different Algebra or Geometry or Chemistry or Biology? Are US History or US Government or World History or Geography greatly different? Of course not. In most cases teachers can easily make whatever adjustments are necessary.

UTLA went into bargaining wanting two things related to Magnets and got one. We wanted the faculty at a school to be able to vote on whether there is a Magnet conversion, and we wanted to stop the abusive practice of making teachers re-apply for their own jobs. We got the first but did not get the second.

Immigrant Defense Fund

LAUSD will provide a dedicated hotline and attorney for immigrant families and will collaborate with UTLA for further services.

I believe measures such as this—while certainly providing far less than is needed—are a worthwhile step forward. As teachers our loyalty is to our students. If it’s a problem for them in their community, then it’s a problem for us. In LAUSD, our community is largely Latino and heavily immigrant. We care about their issues – and we want our union to care about their issues – because I care about our students.

Salary

This strike was not about salary, and we accepted the same salary after seven days of striking that we were offered the Friday before the strike began. The only difference is that LAUSD had to drop a contingency that would make it harder for new teachers to gain retiree health benefits.

There are numerous other gains in the contract, some large, some small. These concern issues such as:

·       Community Schools

·       Special Education

·       Local School Leadership Councils

·       “Random” searches

·       Green Space

·       Substitute Educators

·       Adult   Education

·       Workspace for Itinerant Employees

·       UTLA  Rights

·       Protection of healthcare for striking adult ed and substitutes

·       Protection for striking substitutes to get continuity rate extended with strike

Details on the new agreement’s treatment of issues can be found at UTLA’s website here.

The Bottom Line

We fought for this agreement for 21 months, worked without a contract for 18 months, and finally, forced to the wall, we struck for seven days. What we ended up with was vastly better than what was originally offered, and significantly better than what we were offered on the eve of the strike. There are certainly things lacking in this agreement, but it is a major step forward.

More articles by:

Glenn Sacks is an LAUSD social studies teacher and UTLA co-chair at his high school.  He was recently recognized by LAUSD Deputy Superintendent Vivian Ekchian for “exceptional levels of performance.  

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