Our roots: How we began

United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) was created in 1970 from more than a dozen different organizations representing teachers and support service personnel throughout the massive Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). A merger of the two major rival groups, American Federation of Teachers Local #1021 and the Association of Classroom Teachers of Los Angeles in that year succeeded in bringing all non-administrative, certificated personnel under the one banner of UTLA and its affiliates, the California Teachers Association (CTA), the National Education Association (NEA), and the American Federal of Teachers, AFL-CIO.

A strike in the spring of 1970 solidified the new union, but the lack of a statewide collective bargaining law proved fatal to the first contract won by the teachers, who sacrificed five weeks on the picket lines only to have the courts declare the agreement null and void. UTLA swung into action to get a collective bargaining law in place, and in 1975 the Rodda Act was signed into law by then-Governor Jerry Brown.

The Rodda Act included provisions to allow strikes over contract issues, to force parties to bargain in good faith, to use mediation to break impasses, and to carry out necessary fact-finding. Bargaining with the LAUSD has never been easy for UTLA, but the early years established a solid foundation from which sprang today's extensive contract with its many rights and protections.

In the 1970s, a backlash against taxes in California was mounting and culminated in the passage of Howard Jarvis's Proposition 13, which not only limited personal property taxes but also included almost insurmountable requirements for local communities to increase taxation for school funding. With Prop 13, the source of school funding rapidly shifted to the state; thus UTLA became much more politically active at the state level as districts and other entities routinely vie for a slice of the budget pie.

So, in the aftermath of the tax revolt UTLA found itself fighting to hold on to what it had gained in terms of health benefits and tenure, but in the face of this new adversity and challenge more and more teachers saw the need for a strong union to represent them, and the UTLA membership rolls began to surge.

A 1989 strike that lasted nine days and included 80 percent of the bargaining unit on the picket lines produced a historic three-year contract. This time, UTLA won three successive yearly salary increases of eight percent each, along with a restructuring that implemented school site decision-making and school-based management. However, that precedent-setting agreement saw a sudden reversal when the nation plunged into recession in 1990. The district had to pare $800 million from its budget, which was then about 25 percent of its total income. So, when the UTLA-LAUSD contract expired in 1991, pay cuts followed. Attempted layoffs of thousands of teachers were fought successfully by UTLA.

The contract that was negotiated, however, empowered teachers even more by allowing them to choose classes by seniority and to elect deans and coordinators. The selection and control of health benefit plans were placed in the hands of UTLA and other LAUSD employee unions, which collectively meet to agree on health care issues and plans of action. Despite the hardship, UTLA forged ahead with its school reform agenda and forced the ever-reluctant district to begin to change. Several types of autonomous school programs were instituted: the number of school-based management schools swelled to 90 sites; the Los Angeles Education Alliance for Restructuring Now (LEARN), a business-based group addressed the restructuring needs of LAUSD; and charter schools were initiated.

In the 1990s, UTLA also helped defeat disastrous school voucher plans and other schemes to break up the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second largest. More recently, UTLA has successfully backed candidates for the school board who have vowed to place top priority on students and the classroom.

UTLA is determined to do what's best for the classroom and the kids in them and will protect the budget axe from falling on the classroom.