Independent Wire Services
LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles Unified School District teachers voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if labor negotiations continue to stall, union officials announced Aug. 31.
According to United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents about 33,000 teachers, 98 percent of its members who cast ballots voted in favor of a strike, although the vote-counting was still continuing.
Arlene Inouye, chair of the UTLA bargaining team, called the vote a “sharp rebuke” of LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner’s agenda to “starve our schools of resources, call them failures, opening the door to dismantling our school district.”
“What are we asking for? Smaller class sizes, fair pay raise, more nurses, counselors, psychologists, librarians. Less testing and more teaching. Charter and co-location regulation. Real support for school safety,” Inouye said.
The vote does not automatically mean a walkout will occur. The vote only gives union leadership the right to call a strike depending on the status of labor talks with the district.
There has not been a teachers strike in the LAUSD since 1989.
In response to the voting result, the district issued a statement saying it “remains opposed to a strike and stands with students, families and employees to ensure learning and safety come first.”
“Students and families will bear the brunt of a strike,” the district’s statement said. “We hope our shared responsibility to put students first will prevent a strike and lead to a common-sense resolution that recognizes the hard work of our employees while addressing the safety and instructional needs of students and the financial solvency of L.A. Unified.”
UTLA has already declared the negotiations at an impasse, and a state mediator has been appointed in hopes of resolving the deadlock.
But no mediation sessions have occurred, and none are scheduled until Sept. 27. The late date has led to accusations by UTLA that district officials have been delaying the process, with the union claiming it was prepared to begin mediation by mid-August. The district has denied the allegation, saying it accepted the Sept. 27 offered by the state mediator.
Meanwhile, both the district and the union have filed charges against the other with the state Public Employment Relations Board. The union filed an unfair labor practice charge against the district Aug. 27, accusing the district of unlawfully interfering with the union’s strike-authorization vote and failing to provide requested financial documents.
The district responded the next day, accusing UTLA of engaging in “take-it-or-leave-it bargaining” and failing to even consider any compromises for roughly 16 months.
Salary is one part of the division between the district and the union. United Teachers Los Angeles has asked for a 6.5 percent raise retroactive to July 1, 2016, with the possibility of future raises in a contract that would run through June 30, 2020.
The district has offered 6 percent, stretched out over a three-year period. Other district employee unions already have settled for about 6 percent, spread out over several years in various ways, but they could be entitled to additional compensation if the teachers get more.
The union has also called for steps to reduce class sizes and to increase accountability for charter schools.
The district has contended that the union’s offer would increase the LAUSD’s existing $500 million deficit in the current school year by another $813 million. It also claims that the district’s existing $1.2 billion reserve fund cannot be used to cover the union demands since it is already being used to offset the existing budget shortfall.