As Mediation Fails, UTLA Marches One Step Closer to Strike

United Teachers Los Angeles moved one step closer to a strike Friday, as mediation talks with Los Angeles Unified ended in failure, and LAUSD filed a new unfair labor practice charge against UTLA for refusing to bargain in good faith.

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“By UTLA’s own admission, the only reason UTLA participated in mediation was to ensure that it could move quickly to a strike,” LAUSD General Counsel David Holmquist said Friday. “After just one mediation session, UTLA was seeking to have the mediation process terminated and was openly inciting conflict.”

The two sides now move on to what’s called a fact-finding process. The Public Employee Relations Board (PERB), the state agency that oversees the labor negotiation process, will form a three-member panel chaired by a neutral party that will have a hearing and issue a public report on the facts and recommendations for a settlement.

The process can take from a few weeks to a few months, according to LAUSD. UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl told teachers Friday that he expected the report in late November or early December. At that point the two sides can come back to the table to accept the recommended settlement, or the district can impose its final offer, and UTLA could go on strike.

With the process now unfolding in the middle of the holiday season, there’s speculation that a strike could now take place in January.

Caputo-Pearl has been making noises about a strike ever since he took over as UTLA president several years ago. So it’s no surprise that a settlement to avert a strike appears to be nowhere in sight. Both sides continued their heated rhetoric Friday, with LAUSD arguing that UTLA had been deceptive and intransigent, and UTLA attacking LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner and saying he had attempted to “buy us off with a modest salary increase.”  

LAUSD has offered teachers the same 6 percent raises that other employee unions accepted in their recent contract talks. It also offered additional pay bumps for teachers who take courses in areas aligned with student needs, as well as smaller class sizes in some of the highest-needs schools. UTLA wants larger salary increases and class size decreases at all schools. Union demands would cost an additional $880 million per year, far more than LAUSD has in its budget.

“UTLA has distorted and mischaracterized the facts regarding the offer Los Angeles Unified has made to UTLA, the financial status of Los Angeles Unified, and the negotiation process – recasting the evidence to suggest Los Angeles Unified has been unyielding, when in fact, it is UTLA that has refused all efforts to work out a solution,” Holmquist said.

Holmquist reiterated that UTLA’s final demands would “bankrupt Los Angeles Unified and lead to the unprecedented layoffs of about 12,000 employees, including teachers.” 

In its unfair labor charge filed Friday with PERB, LAUSD said that UTLA had “trounced through the impasse procedure in bad faith, in order to have cover to initiate a strike. UTLA has made no genuine effort to consider alternative positions or to compromise its claims, and has interrupted and refused to attend proposed mediation sessions in order to shortcut the process and achieve its bad faith objectives.”

While some had hoped that the fact that there were multiple mediation sessions was a sign that progress had been made, LAUSD put that notion to rest on Friday. The district claimed in its charge that UTLA had “resisted returning for a second date of mediation, insisting that their position of no movement at all on any issue was a legitimate position.”

Then, after mediators insisted that UTLA attend a second session, which was held at UTLA headquarters at their request, the union “interrupted the second session for several hours in order to hold a press conference to critique various lunch meetings the Superintendent had attended.”

Meanwhile, Caputo-Pearl on Friday urged UTLA members to sign strike commitment forms, raising questions about the number of teachers who have actually pledged to strike themselves, rather than merely authorize UTLA leaders to call a strike. “We need to know that every single one of us will be on the line if we have to strike,” Caputo-Pearl said.

Caputo-Pearl said that UTLA would also focus on trying to build support for a strike among parents, who have expressed serious concerns about teachers walking out on their kids.

While LAUSD said on Monday that schools are expected to remain open during a strike, the disruption would likely have an outsized impact on low-income kids of color, many of whom are already struggling academically and way behind grade level and their more affluent peers.

“On behalf of all of our children and families, I am disappointed mediation has ended,” said Board President Monica Garcia (BD2). “I acknowledge the hard work of our employees and the need to continue to find a solution. We all have a responsibility to resolve issues without risking further harm and stress to our students and families.”

Caputo-Pearl in UTLA’s weekly address also reiterated its false claim that “the money is there” to meet UTLA’s demands for class size decreases, larger teacher raises and more hiring of permanent employees. Those claims fly in the face of warnings from an Independent Financial Review Panel, as well as county and state overseers that have threatened to rescind Board authority if LAUSD gives in to UTLA’s demands.

In an FAQ sheet released Friday, LAUSD addressed UTLA’s repeated claims that LAUSD has $1.8 billion in reserves sitting in the bank that could go toward UTLA’s demands. “About $500 million of that is already committed for federal and state required programs such as resources used to support students in poverty with tutoring and intervention programs.”  

The rest of the $1.3 billion will be spent to cover LAUSD’s deficit. The district currently spends about $500 million more per year than it receives in revenue. LAUSD is required by law to show a balanced budget not only this year but for the subsequent two years, while maintaining a 1 percent reserve. Nearly all of what’s in the bank now will be used just to keep the district in the black over the next two years.

“If L.A. Unified exhausts its savings, the school district will be placed into state receivership,” LAUSD said in its FAQ. That means the state would start making unilateral budget cuts that could include slashing teacher salaries and benefits, laying off employees and increasing class sizes. “L.A. Unified has proposed to UTLA that the parties bring in an independent auditor to examine the financial records of L.A. Unified in order to make certain both parties are working from the same set of facts. UTLA has refused this offer.”

In addition to financial demands, UTLA is also demanding that LAUSD make it harder for charter schools to find classroom space under Prop 39, a state law guaranteeing public nonprofit charter school students equal access to facilities. UTLA wants to create panels of UTLA members and district parents to help decide how school space will be used, while excluding charter parents entirely from the process – essentially codifying contractual discrimination against charter school families.  

UTLA is also making demands that would curb the number of magnet school options for families.

Board Vice President Nick Melvoin (BD4) decried the failure of mediation and urged everyone to come together to lobby for more state funding, which would be necessary to meet UTLA’s demands.

“I’m disappointed, because in my over three dozen town halls with parents and teachers over the last few weeks, I’m convinced there’s more that unites all of us than divides us—that there’s more common ground than we’re seeing at the negotiating table,” Melvoin said. “I’m hopeful that fact-finding will elucidate our financial situation so we can settle this contract, avoid a strike that would be bad for kids and families, and collectively go to Sacramento to demand fair funding for our schools, teachers and kids.”