February 27, 2019News
Above, UTLA gets support from over 6,000 miles away from teachers at the Business Academy (BHAK) and the Upper Technical College (HTL) in Perg, Upper Austria. Expand to read full letter from Nikolas Wagner, an American teaching in Austria.
Dear UTLA Members and Leadership,
My name is Nikolas Wagner and I am an American working as a teaching assistant for English at two schools in Austria: the Business Academy (BHAK) and the Upper Technical College (HTL) in Perg, Upper Austria. This past week, the staff at both of my schools took the time to take a photo with a banner to show our solidarity with the teachers in Los Angeles.
I apologize that the banner may be difficult to read in some photos. The German side reads "Austrian Teachers declare their Solidarity with the striking teachers in Los Angeles."
At the time, the strike was still occurring, and we are pleased to hear that the teachers reached a favorable agreement. Nevertheless, we would like to send the photos to show that teachers all over the world had and still have the support of other teachers.
I ask that you please share the photos with the entire membership and feel free to post the photos on your social media.
Our power shifts the narrative on education
Our strike was a watershed moment for public education: In six days, we galvanized the city, dominated national media coverage, won a ground-breaking contract, and learned that in the battle to reinvest in our schools, the public stands with us.
With 34,000 members out, it was one of the biggest strikes in California history and, despite torrential downpours, community support grew as the walkout progressed from its January 14 start, with more students staying home from school and more parents marching with us, topping 60,000 people at our biggest rally.
Our work stoppage drew national attention to how California, one of the wealthiest and most liberal states in the country, spends shamefully little on its public schools and how our students — predominately from communities of color — are not getting what they need to succeed.
“Teachers tend to be selfless people, and for years we’ve just dealt with issues such as larger class sizes and a lack of funding and resources that led to less and less of everything that we need for a thriving school,” Multnomah Elementary chapter chair Lorraine Quiñones says.
“Our schools have been neglected for too long, and the broader public had no idea what our working and learning conditions were like. Our strike sparked a sense of urgency to demand the changes we know are needed and deserved.”
With passion and discipline, UTLA members conducted a strike like the state has not seen in decades. All the joy and creativity that educators bring to their schools were displayed on our picket lines, with intra-campus dance challenges, chant competitions, and Instagram-worthy protest signs.
The incredible outpouring of support took myriad forms. A Boyle Heights mother opened her home every day, cooking meals and keeping hot coffee and tea always on hand for the water-logged educators at Mendez High. In Highland Park, strikers at multiple schools were cheered by the anonymous driver who steered his pickup truck around the neighborhood, blasting “We Will Rock You” from a giant speaker aimed out his window.
On Day 4 of the strike, parents with the Parents Supporting Teachers Facebook group organized a 4,000-strong Hands Across Colfax human chain that stretched for nearly a mile. And when the strike was over, one Taper Avenue parent welcomed teachers back with gift-wrapped packages of Epsom salt for their sore feet, with a note thanking them for standing up for students.
Game-changing contract agreement
Our strike accomplished in six days what years of bargaining could not: Force the district to reinvest in our schools. The agreement reached January 22 at LA City Hall, where Mayor Eric Garcetti and his team had been mediating between the two sides, hits all the defining elements of our contract campaign.
The wins include a 6 percent retroactive raise; lower class sizes and the top-priority elimination of Section 1.5, which allowed LAUSD to violate class sizes in the contract; a nurse in every school every day; more funding for librarians and counselors; and a 50 percent reduction in the amount of standardized testing.
We beat back an attack on healthcare, secured support for a cap on charter schools and additional state funding, and made progress on common good demands around support for immigrant families, expanding green space, and ending so-called random searches.
By withholding our labor, we forced LAUSD to make major concessions on items it had refused to negotiate for months — such as reducing overtesting — and on top-line priorities like eliminating Section 1.5, the last thing we won at the table.
The new contract, which was approved in a membership vote by 81% to 19%, is not a narrow labor agreement but a broad compact that sets us on a path to a sustainable public education system and reflects our game-changing strike that saw the community unite behind reinvesting in public schools, not dismantling them.
“People were made more aware of the challenges we face,” says Jee Kang, chapter chair at 186th Street School. “Most of our school’s parents didn’t know that we didn’t have a nurse every day. Now they realize that the state spends more to imprison people than to teach their children, and I think elected officials will keep these newly energized parents in mind when they make funding decisions. It’s not just teachers demanding that we reinvest in our schools — it’s the entire community.”
Striking a blow against privatization
Our strike was the eighth major teacher walkout over the past year as the Red for Ed movement has spread from West Virginia to Oklahoma, Arizona, and beyond. Our walkout in Los Angeles — ground zero for privatization attacks by billionaires like Eli Broad — was the first to highlight the destabilizing impact the unregulated expansion of the corporate charter industry has on public education.
The strike was a wakeup call for elected officials — one that aligns with the new political dynamic emerging around education and the charter industry. State Superintendent Tony Thurmond has called for a temporary ban on new K-12 charter schools in the state, saying the state has reached a “tipping point” with too many charters, and Governor Gavin Newsom is calling for a review of the impact of charter school growth on district finances.
And locally, in an incredible turnaround, the LAUSD School Board voted 5 to 1 in support of board member Richard Vladovic’s motion to call on the state to impose a moratorium on charters — a lopsided result unthinkable before our walkout. Only board member Nick Melvoin voted against the resolution.
Building on our victory
Our victory was more than a year in the making and rests on the essential work of building structures at school sites, engaging parents and the community as partners, and taking escalating actions that built our strike readiness.
“Our expectations were fundamentally raised by this strike,” UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl says. “Together we said we deserve better and our students deserve better. We must keep our expectations high and bring the same energy and spirit to our next fights, because the next struggle is right around the corner.”
Some immediate next steps:
- A deeper dive into the new contract and implementation issues through chapter meetings and trainings.
- Precinct walking to elect Jackie Goldberg to the open LAUSD School Board seat in District 5
- Supporting our brothers and sisters in Denver and Oakland as they move toward possible strikes.
- Taking action in Sacramento to push for more school funding and to answer the LAUSD School Board’s call for a moratorium on charters in Los Angeles.
We move onto these next steps with deeper relationships — with colleagues, parents, the community — forged on the picket lines. Rosa Parks Learning Center teacher Abigail Massey says that the experience of being on strike has been “transformative” for the staff.
“We were united in our cause and by the overwhelming support of our local community, the city, and ultimately the teaching profession across the nation,” Massey says.
“We took a huge step forward in providing our students with the environment they need to become successful learners, as well as what teachers need to be successful educational professionals.
Despite the exhaustion, high emotions, and uncertainty of the strike, I would do it all again, and I’m ready to keep fighting for my students.”