Teacher strike in Los Angeles? Parents comment on possible strike proposed by UTLA

This article was originally published in Spanish by La Opinion and is being reprinted in English with the permission of the author.

By Virginia Gaglianone

 Aurelia Ventura/ courtesy La Opinion

Aurelia Ventura/ courtesy La Opinion

In recent weeks, talk of a possible strike by LAUSD teachers has been increasing, to the point that Mayor Eric Garcetti offered his help this week to resolve the negotiations.

Last Thursday, just a few weeks after the start of classes, UTLA, the union that represents more than 30,000 teachers, began voting on whether to authorize the first strike in the district since 1989, which would affect more than 480,000 children and their families. The voting ends this Thursday, August 30. The result of this vote does not imply that the strike will start automatically.

The students and their families are involved, albeit unintentionally, in the negotiations between UTLA (United Teachers Los Angeles) and the school district, and many are either unaware of the details of the negotiations or even of the possibility of a strike.

"The truth is that I did not know anything," Nuria Velázquez, mother of a student at Roscoe Elementary School in the San Fernando Valley, confessed in surprise. At dismissal, other parents at that school were also surprised with the news.

Among parent concerns upon learning of a possible strike are the academic performance of the children and the schedules of working parents, since many would have to find childcare and incur an extra expense they had not planned. At the same time, thousands of Los Angeles families depend on the breakfast and lunch offered by LAUSD schools to feed their children which they could lose temporarily if a strike is declared.

"I understand the teachers, and we support them. But the truth is that if there is a strike, things will become complicated for me," Velazquez said.

"What do you mean, a strike? They just started classes," said Celia Méndez, another mother, in surprise. "Children forget enough during the holidays. This will delay them even more. And in the end, how is this their fault? They should let us give our opinion too. They forget that those decisions also affect our children," she observed.

Other parents, on the other hand, were aware of the union negotiations, although they complained that they had not received more information about it.

"As parents, this strike is somewhat confusing. I have many questions and few answers," said Raquel Toscano, whose two children attend the Maywood Center for Enrichment Studies in Maywood. Toscano is a volunteer at her children's school and a member of Speak UP (http://speakupparents.org), an organization that seeks to give parents a greater voice in education policy and in the decisions that affect the education of their children.

"I would like to know if the schools are ready for the strike, if there will be substitute teachers, how it will affect children who do not perform well academically. I also wonder if the teachers can concentrate with everything that is happening, and even what will happen with the preparation for the state exams that are approaching," questioned Toscano.

"As a mother, I'm not against the teachers at all. On the contrary, I hope they reach an agreement. But everyone has to do everything possible to avoid having to go to the extreme of a strike, because that will affect us all. We all lose with a strike. We have to be united for the children if we really want to make a difference in their lives," reflected Toscano.

Negotiations in detail

 ·       UTLA members have been working without a contract for more than a year. For more than 18 months, the district and the union have tried to negotiate without being able to reach an agreement.

·       According to the school district, the final offer proposed by UTLA would increase the L.A. Unified deficit by more than $813 million dollars and end up costing more than $2.9 billion when the agreement ends.

·       The president of UTLA Alex Caputo-Pearl questioned the prognosis of a "fiscal cliff," which the district could suffer. According to him, money does exist for union proposals.

·       Other district employees reached an agreement of a 6% increase in the coming years. UTLA requested an increase of 6.5% retroactive to July 1, 2016, with the possibility of future increases in a contract valid until June 30, 2020.

·       In a statement, LAUSD superintendent Austin Beutner accepted Mayor Eric Garcetti's proposal to meet with leaders of L.A. Unified and UTLA. The superintendent indicated that the date of the mediation to try to resolve the situation and avoid a possible strike is September 27.