Our strike shifted the narrative: Now, we win more

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President's Perspective Featured Image 10.19.19

We keep seeing the positive impacts of our strike. Take a moment and feel pride in your days in the rain on the picket line.

Lisa Bennett is a special education teacher, UTLA chapter chair, and an LAUSD Teacher of the Year. She teaches at Van Gogh School, one of those closest to the Saddleridge fire. Lisa and others across the San Fernando Valley were incensed by LAUSD’s flat-footedness in responding to the fire. Schools should have been closed and should have remained closed until they were rigorously cleaned and the air quality improved. LAUSD needs a plan, developed with stakeholders, for fire safety in the future.

Lisa, her co-workers, and parents, working with UTLA staff, used structures they built in the strike to organize a protest at Van Gogh. Using cluster connections strengthened during the strike, educators and parents from eight surrounding schools attended the vibrant action on less than 24-hour notice. It was packed with media. Read more on the protest in the box on page 3. Olivia Cortes, vice chair at Frost Middle School, said, “It made me so proud to be at Van Gogh in solidarity with so many other schools.” Randall Pollack, chapter chair at Frost, said, “Simply put, our students saw democracy in action today.”

During the action, the crowd applauded LAUSD School Board Member Scott Schmerelson, who criticized LAUSD’s poor judgement during the fire. Bonds with Schmerelson had been deepened during the strike, as he pushed LAUSD to settle. Everyone is ready to work for his reelection in March 2020.

Also in the West Valley, another LAUSD Teacher of the Year was building from the momentum of the strike. Wendy Lozano is a teacher and chapter chair at Canoga Park Elementary. As chapter chairs are doing across the city, Wendy has taken lead from the UTLA Board of Directors and House of Representatives and is discussing with her co-workers that UTLA is considering endorsing Bernie Sanders for US president in the primary.

In the chapter leader advisory votes that will take place on November 13—advising the House of Representatives, which constitutionally makes the final decision—Wendy will be voting “yes” to endorse Sanders. She says, “Sanders is the only presidential candidate who has been consistent in supporting workers, public education, and the fight against privatization over the last two decades.” On UTLA’s unprecedented, democratic six-week member engagement process, Wendy says, “I brought the discussion of UTLA considering endorsing Sanders to my chapter. Though my co-workers have different perspectives on some things, they all understood the importance of having this conversation and the unique opportunity UTLA has to shape national education policy.” Read more on Sanders later in my column and on page 4 of this issue.

Our strike’s bounce effect

Far beyond the above, our strike continues to bounce, with profound positive impacts. Consider the following from the last month:

  • Governor Newsom signed Assembly bills 1505 and 1507, the first major regulation on charter authorization in decades.
  • LAUSD has complied with our first-ever class-size caps in the vast majority of classrooms, with our Class Size Task Force working with the few schools that need assistance.
  • There are fewer Prop. 39 charter co-locations than any time in the past six years.
  • More than 80% of schools reporting on the UTLA Chapter Power Survey state their Local Leadership/Governance Councils are functioning.
  • LAUSD has exceeded the number of secondary counselors to be hired as a result of the strike.
  • Health and human services providers and special education teachers are on the UTLA/LAUSD Task Force demanding information to prepare for reopener bargaining.
  • The LA School Board finally started collecting over-allocation fees from underenrolled co-located charter schools—they owe more than $6 million from not using space they were given.
  • The LA School Board is set to kill Nick Melvoin’s school rating system.
  • What Bernie Sanders started with his endorsement of the Schools and Communities First state funding measure has taken off: candidates Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren have now endorsed it.
  • Our longtime allies in the Chicago Teachers Union, who inspired the country with their 2012 strike, are on strike again, referencing our class size, staffing, and Common Good strike wins as inspirational.

We continue to fight on all fronts. We have initiated the grievance process won during the strike because LAUSD has not met its obligation for hiring nurses this year. Our members are at the bargaining table through rights we won during the strike, negotiating on LAUSD’s pilot inclusion model. We have our three contract reopeners for January 2020: salary, including bilingual differential; special education, including health and human services staffing; and class size. There’s a detailed look, issue by issue, on how we’re enforcing the contract on pages 6 and 7.

Winning the school board elections is key

To continue our momentum, we need to win all four seats in the school board elections of March 2020. We have endorsed a set of candidates earlier than we ever have before. George McKenna in Board District 1 and Scott Schmerelson in Board District 3 have been powerful voices against privatization and in support of investment in classrooms and respect for educators. Jackie Goldberg, in five short months since her election to Board District 5, has powerfully shifted the balance of power on the board.

We have endorsed Patricia Castellanos in Board District 7. This seat is being vacated by Richard Vladovic because of term limits. As an open seat, it will play an outsized role in forming the balance of power on the board. Paty has been a friend and leader in labor/community movements in LA for 20 years, having worked for SCOPE and LAANE, and having walked the picket lines with us. She is a parent of an LAUSD student in San Pedro, and grew up in Carson—both critical battlegrounds in District 7. She was a student at Catskills Elementary, the school that captured the city’s imagination in its victorious struggle to keep GANAS charter from opening. Paty co-founded Reclaim Our Schools LA, the community coalition that organized nightly protests at Monica Garcia, Austin Beutner, and billionaires’ houses during the strike.

This crucial campaign has begun. Read more on the cover and contact your chapter chair to see which board district you live in, and sign your commitment to vote for our candidates if you live in 1, 3, 5, or 7. Talk to your chapter chair about volunteering.

Time to lead nationally: Considering Bernie Sanders

Donald Trump supports privatizing schools, is undermining unions, and is attacking the communities of our students. We must defeat him in 2020.

The Democratic Party will not beat Trump if it continues to attack its own base. By supporting underfunding of schools and unregulated growth of charters, Democratic Party leadership has attacked its own base of people of color and working-class people. By supporting unregulated growth of a vastly anti-union charter sector, Democratic Party leadership has undermined the pay, job security, and working conditions of educators, a job dominated by unionized women. Another attack on its base.

Even if we defeat Trump, the Democratic Party will not address the most important issues in education without radically changing its approach. Bill Clinton did perhaps more to start charter-ization than any other president. Barack Obama doubled down on that with support for charters, standardized testing, competition for scarce funds through Race to the Top, and more.

Because of our strike, we are asked across the country whom we are supporting for US president. We have an opportunity and responsibility to push the Democratic Party so that it can beat Donald Trump, and have good education policy.

The UTLA Board of Directors and House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly—35-1 and 135-46—to say that Bernie Sanders is the candidate we should consider endorsing in the primary. The bodies went further to vote that we would engage in an unprecedented, democratic process to see where chapter leaders and members are on this question. There will be six weeks of discussion at school sites, a chapter leader advisory vote, and a final vote by the House of Representatives. Whatever the outcome, no PACE funds will be given to any US presidential campaign.

This is why the Board and House were overwhelming in their votes to consider Sanders for the primary.

  • Sanders is the only major candidate for US President in the last 25 years who is challenging privatization and calling for a moratorium on charter growth. He has concrete plans for getting the rich and corporations to pay their fair share, and for diverting funding to education. Joe Biden is cut from the same cloth as Obama on education. Elizabeth Warren has 45 policy plans, but none on public education.
  • Months ago, Sanders put out the most progressive platform on supporting unions in decades. Two weeks ago, Warren released a platform with many similarities.
  • Sanders is leading on healthcare, something in which we need long-term change in order to sustain our care. Employer savings from his Medicare for All proposal would go directly to workers’ wages.
  • Sanders is the only candidate who concretely builds movement, using volunteers to support progressive campaigns, from keeping hospitals open in Pennsylvania to having volunteers on our picket lines and raising $100,000 for our strike fund. Educators are number one among the professions of his donors.
  • By all accounts, Sanders is healthy, having experienced a type of heart attack millions of Americans have, with rapid and sustained recovery. His campaign is gaining momentum, with an endorsement this week from Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
  • Sanders can beat Trump. He is leading in Democratic fundraising, is strong in swing states and independent voters, beats Trump in head-to-head polls, and has major support in demographics that will vote heavily in 2020, including Latinx voters, Black women, and millenials.

Now is the time to act, before it is too late. The major candidates announced for the presidency nine months ago, and we’re only three months away from the first primary. Yet, Warren has not put forward a plan on education, and Biden has not been challenged on education. The California primary is earlier than ever, increasing our leverage. We have national power in a way we have not had. We are leading in a teacher strike wave, with more workers across the country on strike over 2018-2019 than at any time in the past 30 years.

This is a win-win. By endorsing Sanders, the best result would be having him take on Trump. The worst result would be not having him as the Democratic nominee, but having forced every Democratic candidate to shift in our direction on education. Then, we get behind the nominee and beat Trump.

We led in restructuring our union in Build the Future, Fund the Fight, we led in the strike, and now it’s time to lead nationally. Talk to your chapter chair and engage in this process.

Sisters and brothers, so many of you inspire me, from Lisa to Randall to Wendy to Olivia to so many others. Keep up your great work with students, with each other, and building our movement every day. Keep that strike effect bouncing forward!