Public school teachers in Los Angeles will go on strike starting Thursday, Jan. 10, unless an unforeseen breakthrough occurs before then.
The teachers union – United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) – announced the strike date on Dec. 19.
The announcement followed the release of a report by a fact-finding panel made up of a neutral arbitrator, a member appointed by UTLA and a member appointed by L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD). Ideally, a fact-finding report would have helped UTLA and LAUSD find a compromise. But instead, each side has hunkered down.
One reason for the continued impasse is that the UTLA/LAUSD labor dispute is not only about pay. If it were, the fight would probably be over, because the two sides are actually close on the issue of raises: Basically, the teachers have asked for 6.5%, while LAUSD and the fact finders support a 6% increase.
The sticking points in the dispute are around non-salary issues, including teacher demands for smaller class sizes and more support personnel – which LAUSD says it can’t afford.
The neutral arbitrator acknowledged that LAUSD has some real financial problems. But it said that the district could spend another 1% to 3% on top of the 6% salary increase to hire more teachers to reduce class sizes and to pay for more support staff. The union-appointed member on the fact-finding panel wrote in the report that the 3% level should be more than enough. The LAUSD-appointed member was noncommittal.
Another major non-salary issue is the current and future role of charter schools, which are privately run, publicly funded, generally nonunion schools within LAUSD. This issue goes beyond specific contract items on the table. The union says that pro-charter school forces aligned with school Supt. Austin Beutner, a former investment banker, want to deprive traditional, unionized public schools of resources in order to advance a broader goal to privatize public education. Supt. Beutner and pro-charter school board members have denied any ulterior motive.
With the battle lines drawn as they are, the L.A. teacher strike, if and when it comes, could be an epic showdown.