Strike Looms, Affecting Some Local Schools
By Staff Reports
LOS ANGELES—With the first L.A. teachers' strike in 30 years threatened starting Thursday, no negotiations took place Tuesday between the 600,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District and the union representing the district's teachers.
Instead, the parties will attend separately to discrete aspects of their dispute, although they have scheduled a meeting Wednesday morning. A bargaining session meeting they held Monday failed to break the logjam in their protracted negotiations.
The LAUSD said it brought forward a new proposal Monday that would have added nearly 1,000 additional teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians, which the UTLA rejected.
United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex-Caputo Pearl told reporters outside district headquarters that he had several problems with the proposal and that he was surprised the district had "so little to offer. Unless something changes significantly there will be a strike in the city of L.A."
Caputo-Pearl said another bargaining session is scheduled for Wednesday, and that UTLA leaders are not able to meet Tuesday because they must be in court.
The district is seeking an injunction based on alleged "insufficient notice of intent to strike" -- an assertion union officials are calling "unsubstantiated" and "disingenuous." If the school district succeeds with the injunction, it could delay the strike by a few days, Caputo-Pearl has said.
In dispute is whether United Teachers Los Angeles, in setting the strike for Thursday, gave the Los Angeles Unified School District a legally required 10-day notice that its members would stop working under the existing contract.
The teachers' union plans to be in Los Angeles Superior Court Tuesday over whether it followed the rules. The union's goal is to preempt the district from going to court on the same issue after a strike begins, the Los Angeles Times reported. If that occurred, a judge could shut down the strike for several days, dampening its momentum.
In the meantime, UTLA is expected to argue in court that it has provided ample notice of its intent to strike, announcing its Jan. 10 strike date on Dec. 19.
The Los Angeles Unified Board of Education, meanwhile, passed a controversial proposal Tuesday that eases background check requirements for some parent volunteers in anticipation of the need for help in the event of a strike. Those volunteers will not need to pass a full federal background check, but will still be checked against a national database of sex offenders.
No one issue separates the two sides. They have been negotiating for nearly two years without coming close to a resolution. They've already gone through mediation and a fact-finding session in recent months. The fact finder's report was issued last month, and it sparked more verbal sparring between the two sides.
Caputo-Pearl said after Monday's bargaining session that the district's latest proposal was inadequate for several reasons, including that a potential raise for teachers would be contingent on cutting future health care benefits, that it actually increases class size instead of lowering it, and would not add enough long-term nurses, counselors, and librarians. With around 1,000 schools in the district, Caputo-Pearl said the offer would only amount to about one additional employee per school.
Caputo-Pearl also said that it was not clear if the 1,000 positions agreed to by the district would be new hires, or the result of the district shuffling around employees.
But the district insisted Wednesday that its most recent contract offer to the union incorporates many of the recommendations including in the fact-finding report, such as a 6 percent pay raise, a $30 million investment in hiring of professional staff and reducing class sizes and elimination of a section of the labor agreement that the union claims would allow the district to unilaterally increase class size.
UTLA officials have said many elements of the district's latest offer remained "unclear," suggesting that the 6 percent salary increase being offered still appears to be contingent on cuts to future union members' health care and contending the offer also appears to maintain the contract section allowing increases in class size.
The union is also continuing to push for increased district investment in hiring of counselors, nurses, librarians and other professional staff, saying the $30 million proposed by the district would have a negligible impact on only a small percentage of LAUSD campuses.
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. LAUSD claims the staffing increases being demanded by the union would cost an estimated $786 million a year, further depleting a district already facing a $500 million deficit.
The district filed federal court papers Thursday in hopes of preventing teachers who serve special-education students from taking part in a strike, noting that the district's special-ed programs are monitored under a federal consent decree. The union decried the move, saying the district was "using our most vulnerable students as pawns." A federal judge denied the district's claim Friday.
The union has also blasted the district for hiring an estimated 400 substitute teachers who can be brought in if a strike does occur. Caputo-Pearl said the union believes the move is illegal and will do little to allay the impact of a teachers' strike.
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