With contract talks at impasse, we build toward strike vote

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Red Tuesday
Monlux ES Red Tuesday, union strong and ready to vote this Thursday.

LAUSD has made no meaningful proposals on critical priorities while Beutner sets the stage for major cuts.

On August 3, the Public Employment Relations Board agreed with UTLA’s declaration of impasse in bargaining and confirmed that talks with the district are at a deadlock. PERB has appointed a state mediator.

“PERB agrees with UTLA in our belief we are at impasse,” said Arlene Inouye, chair of the UTLA Bargaining Team. “While we move forward with a state mediator, and continue to try to reach an agreement with the district—one that respects students, educators, and the community—we also must mobilize our members for a strike, if one becomes necessary.”

Our proposals are not radical—they are necessary. Lower class sizes, less testing, greater parent and educator voice, support for special education, charter accountability, fair pay for educators, equal rights for Early Ed and Adult Ed teachers, and more counselors, nurses, psychologists, and teacher librarians—these are essentials that all students need in order to learn in healthy, thriving schools. Unfortunately, we do not have a partner in the district for our vision. LAUSD is increasingly dominated by pro-privatization ideologues who want to dismantle the school district rather than fight for its survival.

We remain far apart on compensation, with UTLA demanding a 6.5% increase and LAUSD offering a paltry 2% on the scale and a 2% one-time bonus—less than what they are giving other bargaining units. The district offered administrators 3% on the scale, contingent on additional PD, and a 3% one-time bonus that could become permanent depending on the budget. Both offers—to educators and administrators—are unacceptable, but it is particularly offensive that the district is offering front-line educators less than other employees in the school district.

Beutner’s campaign for cuts 

New LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner has wasted no time in showing his cards. In Beutner’s first months on the job, he has executed a coordinated campaign to justify his austerity program for our schools. His actions leave no doubt that he was hired by pro-privatization school board members to do what he did as a profit-focused investment banker: cut, consolidate, dismantle. 

• In June, Beutner released the “Hard Choices” report to set the stage for major cuts.The document is filled with outrageous claims: Educators are overpaid … LAUSD over-invests in supplies and materials …. our pensions should be “less generous” …. special education is ripe for cuts … the teacher workday is too short.Beutner’s report followed a presentation by district officials to the school board that recommended raising class size to as high as 50 students per teacher.

 • In July, Beutner told business leaders that the school district may “be no more” by 2021,and he called the annual $600 million impact of charter school growth on our neighborhood public schools irrelevant and a “distraction.”

• In August, Beutner gave an interview to LA School Report and talked directly about closing “underperforming” schoolsand accused teachers of not putting students first.

Beutner’s regressive vision for public education—one that defunds and dismantles, instead of reinvigorates and reinvests—is one we must fight head-on this year. 

This is the new reality under Beutner: Blame our pay, healthcare, and pensions for the funding crisis instead of underfunding from the state (hyper-wealthy California ranks 43rd in per-pupil funding) and a school district that refuses to invest its healthy $1.7 billion reserve in students or take affirmative steps to attract families. In contrast, our Community Schools and common good proposals would create an alternative to privatized schools, increase student success, and increase enrollment.

 

Beutner targets healthcare and tries to divide unions

Going after our healthcare is a special priority for Beutner, as evidenced by the recent contract agreements reached with other LAUSD bargaining units. In the administrators’ agreement and in the SEIU Local 99 agreement, the district paired modest salary increases with a giveback: an increase in the required years of service to qualify for healthcare in retirement. With the two police unions in the district, Beutner has been more aggressive, offering slightly higher salary increases in exchange for those unions promising to leave the Health Benefits Committee. 

The HBC is the union-run entity that has been crucial to saving healthcare as costs rise and pressure increases to roll back coverage. Beutner is trying to bribe other unions to start the slow-walk toward giving up healthcare, but we are optimistic that our LAUSD labor coalition will stand together to protect our coverage.

 

UTLA escalation plan: Get strike ready

The district has chosen a path of austerity and cuts, and we are fighting to reinvest in and save public education. As we head into mediation, we will continue working for an agreement with LAUSD while we build toward strike readiness and our critical all-member strike authorization vote from August 23 to 30. 

Our escalation plan connects with the teacher uprisings happening across the country, in which educators scored decisive wins that encompass more than wages and benefits. Striking educators in West Virginia won a 5% raise for all public sector workers, stopped charter encroachment, and defeated legislation to eliminate tenure. In Puerto Rico, collective action saved more than 200 schools marked for closure. In Arizona, teachers hit the picket lines and won a 9% raise this year and partial restoration of $400 million in recession-era cuts. 

 

We too must be ready to walk if LAUSD does not end its bad faith approach to bargaining. Our readiness and willingness to fight now will have a tremendous impact on how far the pro-privatization faction will attempt to go in the immediate future, when they come after our pay, our healthcare, and our pensions.