Unless there’s an unexpected breakthrough, public school teachers in Los Angeles appear headed for a strike that could come as early as December or, more likely, in 2019.
Here’s the current state of play and what parents need to think about in advance of a strike.
The two sides – the teachers union (UTLA) and the L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) – are done with talking, for now. Contract negotiations, which had gone on for more than a year, broke down in July and shortly thereafter, the union overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike. Three negotiating sessions with a state mediator in September and October made no progress. The process has now moved into a fact-finding stage, in which the claims by each side are analyzed by a panel headed by the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), the state agency that oversees collective bargaining. It will take several weeks for PERB to issue a report on its findings. The report will recommend ways to resolve the dispute and could help break the logjam, if, say, its findings are more favorable to one side than the other.
The fact-finding report could also sway public opinion about the dispute, which boils down to this:
The teachers want increases in wages, per-pupil funding and student support services; decreases in class size and standardized testing; and improvements in charter school oversight and school safety. LAUSD says it cannot afford to meet the teachers’ demands.
LAUSD has also said that the teachers’ union has refused to bargain in good faith and recently filed an unfair labor-practices charge against the union. PERB will investigate the charge and could refer the matter up the chain to the Division of Administrative Law. If found to have acted in bad faith, the union could be fined, forced to post that it had violated the law and sent back to the bargaining table, where any raises that LAUSD has previously offered could be rescinded.
As a practical matter, fact-finding and other wrangling are hoops that must be jumped through for a strike to be considered legal. The union has not indicated it would undertake an illegal strike and so the process needs to run its course.
Meanwhile, parents can plan for what they will do if there is a strike.
Schools would remain open, so one option would be to send your kids to school where they would be supervised by LAUSD personnel and served meals as per usual. A UTLA representative told the Boulevard Sentinel that the union recognizes that some parents have no other options for meals or child care and so does not view school attendance as crossing a picket line.
That said, empty or near-empty schools have been seen as a sign of support for striking teachers in previous strikes in L.A. (in 1970 and 1989) and in recent teacher strikes around the nation. In addition, parents who support the strike would be welcome to join the teachers on the picket lines and to bring their children with them to walk the picket lines.
LAUSD has said that children who attend school during a strike would receive instruction by qualified LAUSD staff. But anything resembling regular instruction would be virtually impossible. The union includes more than 30,000 teachers, counselors, librarians, nurses and social workers. If they are not on the job, it’s safe to assume the job won’t get done.
The Boulevard Sentinel reached out to some of the recreation centers in Northeast L.A. to find out if they would be offering extra activities or child care in the event of a strike. It appears that each rec center would make its own decision about adding extra services. Parents should contact the director at their desired location for more information.
In other cities where teachers have recently gone on strike, the Y and Boys and Girls Clubs stepped up to help fill the kids’ days while parents worked. Parents should ask at organizations where their kids play if hours and activities would be ramped up during a strike. Questions from parents could lead the organizations to do some contingency planning.
Another step parents can take is to contact the teachers’ union and LAUSD to share their thoughts about the possibility of a strike. Public opinion is a factor in how things turn out. The president of the teachers’ union, Alex Caputo-Pearl, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Weighing in with LAUSD is complicated in NELA by the fact that the area currently does not have its own member on the school board; the seat is empty pending a special election next year to fill the seat once held by Ref Rodriguez, who resigned in July after pleading guilty to a campaign-related felony. Still, parents can contact the Board President, Mónica García at email@example.com) and the Superintendent, Austin Beutner at Austin.firstname.lastname@example.org.