February 14, 2019President's Perspective
Building systems, structures pays off
Our strike won an overwhelming victory on the issues. We launched the teacher strike movement in California and accelerated the teacher strike movement nationally. We made history.
But what remains etched in our brains and hearts most indelibly is the togetherness, love, pride, and creative spark we felt on the picket lines and in the rallies. The co-workers at Los Angeles Elementary who got to know each other so much better on the line that they decided to step up and broaden their chapter leadership at the school as a permanent move. The chapter leaders at Augustus Hawkins High School who said that, when it rained the week after the strike, their colleagues missed striking together (“picket line withdrawal”). The parents at Lillian Street Elementary who brought pozole to the line for a collective feast. The entire school community at Arleta High School and Romer Middle School dancing in the rain and contributing to the social media dance contests. The members at Nevin Elementary who made “Thank You” cards for parents, stating, “Thank you for supporting our schools during this historic strike. Together, we will build a better and more equal world for our students and our community. UTLA Strong!” The members at Stagg Elementary and so many sites who said the strike was a tremendous boost in morale. The members at Carpenter Elementary who collectively created a social media phenom with carpool karaoke.
Every one of you on the picket line embraced your ability to be an agent of change in the world. So many of you embraced your leadership — motivating your co-workers, organizing elements of your picket line or the work supporting your picket line and rally attendance. You are incredible.
Above, Alex on the first day of the strike with his daughter, Ella, an LAUSD student. Many families walked the line together and embraced the strike as a living lesson that people can lead by taking to the streets. As so many rally signs read: “Los maestros luchando tambien están enseñando”—The teachers who are fighting are also teaching.
It is so important that we nurture these relationships that developed during the strike. It was our collective power, our togetherness across over 34,000 educators and tens of thousands of parents, and our strengthened relationships to each other that gave us the power to win the strike. It is also what will give us the power to win the next steps in the struggle for educational justice. So, take time to remember the picket lines and be intentional about building those relationships even stronger.
We’ll need those relationships, that discipline, that pride, and that energy for our next steps:
- Educate ourselves and parents about the new contract and implement it aggressively.
- Elect Jackie Goldberg to LAUSD School Board District 5.
- Support the possible Oakland teacher strike.
- Pressure the state for a charter cap and additional funding for schools.
What we achieved
We began our contract campaign with member, parent, and community surveys in February 2017. We had three overall goals for the campaign.
- Win on key contract demands.
- Win on key political and common good demands outside the contract.
- Build the movement for public education.
We achieved all of our goals.
Over my 22 years of teaching and community organizing, and four and a half years of being UTLA president, I have been a part of, and closely observed, many unions’ contract campaigns and many community campaigns to change policies. I have never seen a victory with the depth and breadth of what we won together in our strike.
For months between July and November 2018, we blanketed the city with the “United, We Act Now” flyer, outlining seven of our key demands. We won on all of them.
Pay: A 6% retroactive increase without contingencies and without conditions that undermine healthcare.
Class size: Elimination of Section 1.5 of the class-size article, leading to the first enforceable class-size caps in decades, along with the first systematic reduction in class sizes in decades over the course of three years.
Staffing and school safety: Increased staffing, including a nurse in every school every day, a teacher librarian in every secondary school, and a first-time enforceable student-to-counselor ratio.
Testing: A 50% reduction in standardized testing.
Privatization: A School Board resolution calling on Sacramento to implement a moratorium on new charter schools, a first-time article in our contract giving public district schools more rights in charter co-locations, and a commitment to remove unused bungalows.
School funding: An endorsement by the district and Mayor Eric Garcetti for the Schools and Communities First statewide measure in November 2020 that would bring $11 billion to schools and social services, and an unlocking of LA County monies for mental health services.
Community Schools: Investment in 30 school communities to transform into Community Schools, as a model for great education, and as a proactive alternative to charter schools.
There were contractual wins beyond these, including for special education, greater educator voice in magnet conversion, early education, workspace for itinerants and health and human services professionals, ROC/ROP teachers, adult education, substitute educators, ethnic studies, and expanded chapter chair rights regarding budgets, speaking at district meetings, and more.
- Read the February United Teacher details on page 4.
In addition to the privatization, school funding, and Community School victories above, there were additional victories on political and common good demands outside the contract, including expanding green space on school campuses, expanding the number of schools where school safety alternatives to so-called random searches would be used, and creating an immigrant defense fund.
On our third goal of using our contract campaign and our strike to build the movement for public education, we scored an unambiguous victory. Tens of thousands of parents picketed and marched with us. We fundamentally shifted the media narrative about public schools in LA and around the country. The new narrative: We must invest in our schools, not privatize them; in the richest state in the richest country in the world, it is clearly possible to do this; and, educators will strike for our students. We have helped inspire teacher movements and possible strikes in Oakland, Denver, Virginia, Texas, Maryland, and more.
Lessons from our strike
We learned many lessons from our strike, and we did our learning on a public stage, so that the US labor movement, teacher unions everywhere, and movements everywhere can learn with us.
Strikes work: We live in a period of history in which the right wing is attempting to take away the right to strike, and liberals are often too scared to utter the word “strike” for fear that it will be too “disruptive.” With a massive, effective, strategic, and well-organized strike, we have helped put striking back on the map. And, we have shown that strikes work. We would not have won 80% of our contract demands without a strike. We would not have forced the non-contractual political and common good demands onto the table without a strike. We would not have galvanized the movement we did and shifted the media narrative without a strike.
Building systems and structures pays off: All of the work we have done over the past four years to build systems and structures — recruiting chapter chairs at every school, building contract action teams at our schools, building cluster systems for communication — were essential to organizing a successful strike.
Parents, youth, and community are essential: Four years ago, we initiated the Reclaim Our Schools LA coalition of community and civil rights organizations, and we began a process of training our members to do school-by-school parent connection and communication. This paid off in the strike with tens of thousands of parents involved. ROSLA did an amazing parallel set of actions during our strike, including protests in the rain at Monica Garcia and Austin Beutner's homes and a teach-in at the offices of a well-known privatizer.
We must double-down on this work to continue to build the movement for our schools.
Collective action is the key to social change: We live in a society that celebrates celebrities and individual leaders. No celebrity or individual leader could have won the victories we did, or galvanized the attention and movement we did. We were able to do that through the collective, organized action of tens of thousands of people.
Both major political parties need to be aggressively challenged: The Arizona, West Virginia, and Oklahoma teacher walkouts of last year were called “red state strikes” against Republican legislatures. Though Democrats are supposedly more sympathetic to public education and unions, it took our strike for elected officials in Los Angeles and California, overwhelmingly Democratic, to take the underfunding and privatization of our schools seriously. We have to keep on challenging them.
Being bold and pushing political imagination matters: The district refused to bargain school funding, Community Schools, elements of charter schools, and our common good proposals, claiming they were “outside the scope of bargaining.” They took us to court saying that we couldn’t bargain standardized testing because it is a permissive subject of bargaining, not a mandatory subject. We were bold, pushed through, and reached agreement on all of these. We are imagining a new future in which social movements bargain on more and more issues that matter to people.
There is no textbook way to end a strike: On the Tuesday that was the last day of the strike, the voting on the tentative agreement was very rushed and frustrated some members. We understand this, embrace the criticism, and are reflective. We had three options on how to end the strike: (a) have the Board of Directors end it alone, which would have been unacceptable because our members owned this strike, and that would have been undemocratic; (b) extend the strike through Wednesday, which would have given people more time to read the agreement and vote, but would have added an additional day unpaid; or (c) Use that 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. period on Tuesday to try to rush the voting. In the intensity of the end of a 24-hour bargaining session at the end of a weekend of bargaining, pressure from the media, pressure from elected officials, and trying to balance the centrality of our members being able to read and understand the agreement with the value of minimizing our members’ loss of pay to the degree possible, we went with option (c).
We apologize for the rushed voting and are reflective about this difficult choice.
Wins must be used as platforms to continue the struggle: We cannot rest on our wins. We must use them as the foundation to aggressively push forward in these and other critical areas.
Class size: The strike would have been worth it even if our only win had been eliminating Section 1.5 on class size. Class size is that important to working conditions, learning conditions, building coalitions, limiting RIFs, limiting charter co-locations, and so much more. Killing 1.5 will result in reductions in class size at every level next year because the class size caps in the 2017-18 Memorandum of Understanding will be enforced. The 3½-year process to close the gap between the caps in the 2017-18 MOU and the caps in our permanent contract will result in additional reductions of up to seven students. These are huge wins—and, as the civil rights movement of the 1960s and other movements have taught us, sometimes huge victories are implemented gradually. But we will not rest with these wins. Now that we have the win of enforceable class size caps, we can press to lower them even further in future bargaining, from TK-12 and adult school, from core subjects to elective classes.
Special education: We opened up the special education article in our contract for the first time in 38 years. We should be proud that we did this, for students and educators who have, for too long, been neglected. We made significant gains on articulating district norms for class sizes and caseloads, getting release time for teachers to do assessments, requiring the district to provide data on caseloads, gaining the ability to bargain on instructional delivery models, addressing for the first time the varied needs of autistic students, and accelerating the response time the district has to address class size and caseload problems. But there is much more to do. We will use the current wins as a platform to fight aggressively for more.
Psychologists, PSWs, and PSAs: In the past four years, we have won key victories for our members in these groups with regards to beating back RIFs and winning additional hiring. With our strike, we won the guarantee of work space for these members, a contractual workload committee that will drive toward reducing ratios and unnecessary paperwork, and the ability to be a part of the innovative Community School model. We will need to work to aggressively build on these victories.
Bilingual and multilingual education: We will forcefully work to make improvements in these key areas. This will require deeply educating the district on the needs of our students, and the educators serving them.
I will end where I began. We just experienced something together that very few in life do — an incredible, victorious, and movement-building strike. I couldn’t be more honored to have done this with you.
And now we move to our next steps. Every one of us needs to personally involve ourselves in each of these. Reach out and get precinct-walking, text-banking, and informational picketing at your schools on your calendar for these next steps:
Educating ourselves and parents about the new contract and implementing it aggressively.
- Electing Jackie Goldberg to School Board District 5.
- Supporting the possible Oakland teacher strike.
- Pressuring the state for a charter cap and additional funding for schools.
You are wonderful. Move forward with pride. You did something so few others have done. You are going to help build on it. You embraced your ability to be an agent of change in the world—and you made a change. I will see you soon, and let’s keep moving forward.