Despite the fact that LAUSD has budgeted in raises equivalent to those recently negotiated by unions for administrators and classified employees, the United Teachers Los Angeles union has declared that it’s at an impasse in labor negotiations, increasing the likelihood of a teachers strike later this fall.
UTLA is asking for salary increases greater than the 6 percent being given to other LAUSD employees. If LAUSD met all the demands in UTLA’s take-it-or-leave-it final offer made last week, the district “would immediately become bankrupt,” LAUSD’s Director of Labor Relations Najeeb Khoury wrote in a strongly worded letter sent to UTLA Friday. “The consequences of bankruptcy would be harmful for students, employees, including UTLA members, and the communities we serve.”
In addition to salary demands, UTLA is threatening to strike, in part, because it wants to limit the number of new magnet school options offered to kids in the future. And UTLA also refuses create a new “highly effective” teacher evaluation category to recognize the best and highest-performing teachers, which would allow LAUSD to study their methods and replicate them to help more kids.
Khoury’s letter to UTLA Friday claimed that the union has been “unwilling to negotiate” in good faith. “The District is disappointed that UTLA, within a span of three weeks, declared impasse, withdrew that request, and has now declared impasse again, after having given the District forty-eight hours to accept or reject its ‘Final Offer,’” the letter said. “Between the two declarations, UTLA did not change its proposal” substantially and has not done so since April 2017.
The union based its original strike threat on protecting healthcare benefits. But UTLA was able to ink a three-year deal earlier this year to maintain healthcare contributions at the present level for three years and keep free lifetime healthcare benefits for employees and spouses without any monthly contribution –- even though the deal threatens the solvency of the district.
Given that status-quo healthcare deal and salary raises the district is offering, it’s unclear what exactly would make UTLA stand down from its strike threat. It’s widely believed that UTLA is intent on striking regardless of what LAUSD offers and regardless of how it may harm kids who won’t be educated while teachers walk off their jobs.
UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl, who is terming out and may be eyeing his next job, made his intentions explicit two years ago. “The next year-and-a-half must be founded upon building our capacity to strike, and our capacity to create a state crisis, in early 2018,” Caputo-Pearl told an audience in July 2016.
Khoury in his letter said that the teachers union in its final offer was insisting upon multiple provisions that would harm kids’ ability to have the “right teachers” at the “right schools.” The union, for instance, wants to make it harder for district schools to convert to magnets and “limit the district’s ability to select teachers with special skills or talents for new magnet schools.”
Currently, when schools convert to magnet status, teachers must reapply for their jobs. This makes sense because a STEM magnet, for instance, may need specialized math, science and engineering teachers that a traditional district school does not have. But UTLA is insisting that all teachers would remain at schools that convert to magnets, making those conversions in name only rather than in substance –- which does not benefit or improve options for kids.
“Parents place a high value on the availability of magnet schools for their children, which is demonstrated by a 35 percent increase in student enrollment in magnet schools over the last seven years," Khoury's letter said. "Student achievement in magnet schools is amongst the highest in LA Unified.”
In another demand that could harm kids, UTLA wants to get rid of any district flexibility to protect certain teachers from layoffs based on a school's needs. They want teachers laid off strictly based on seniority at all times -- regardless of the school's needs or the quality of the teachers.
UTLA is also insisting upon class size decreases, which, when combined with its salary demands, would increase LAUSD’s deficit by more than $800 million, tipping the district into immediate insolvency and state takeover. Sources say LAUSD is willing to offer to reopen contract talks to reduce class sizes if the state increases its funding to the $20,000 per pupil that LAUSD and UTLA have both been seeking. It is unlikely, however, that there will be any movement on a funding increase anytime soon.
LAUSD said it is willing to negotiate and still has room to move on its latest salary offer, but sources say it makes no sense to do so if UTLA refuses to move from its demands. Mediation is the likely next step for UTLA and LAUSD. Since this process usually takes two-to-four months, observers do not expect a strike to take place before October or November.
While talks with UTLA are stuck, LAUSD announced Monday that it had struck a three-year deal with the California School Employees Association union representing office technicians, library aides, financial managers and other office employees. The tentative CSEA agreement is retroactive to last July and gives 2 percent raises for each of the three years. The deal means that LAUSD has been able to successfully negotiate new contracts with 60 percent of its workforce. The Board will vote on CSEA, SEIU and AALA labor deals on Aug. 21.