UTLA Returns To The Negotiating Table After Mounting Pressure From Black Clergy, Business Leaders

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After facing pressure from black clergy and business leaders, UTLA is returning to the negotiating table Thursday, with Mayor Eric Garcetti attempting to mediate a solution.

“We will be in bargaining tomorrow,” said UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl, who met with Garcetti and State Superintendent Tony Thurmond on Wednesday. Talks are likely to continue into the weekend, he added.

In a strongly worded letter sent Wednesday, more than 20 African-American clergy members urged Caputo-Pearl to get back to the negotiating table, saying “the fortunes of African American children do not improve on the picket line."

“In the lead up to the strike and on its first day, your public statements have included a disinterest in settling your contract dispute,” the letter said. “Negotiators should be at the table crafting a solution to end the strike…Your organization must continue to negotiate around the clock with our children and their well-being as a focus.”

UTLA broke off talks last Friday, and union leaders had rejected pleas from LAUSD to return to talks until Wednesday night. Earlier Wednesday, Board Vice President Nick Melvoin hinted at some movement in a letter to constituents and suggested that LAUSD needs help to find more revenue to meet teacher demands.

“I have been speaking to the Mayor throughout this week, and earlier today, we discussed future revenue enhancements locally here in LA that he could support,” Melvoin wrote. “We hope these new allocations, commitments, and partnership with UTLA, will bring the union back to the table to resolve this." 

While the letter from African-American clergy supported the teachers’ right to strike, the clergy emphasized the impact on black students who are losing valuable instruction time. “How are seniors transitioning out of school, 8th graders going to high school, 5th graders going to middle school, kindergarteners going to 1st grade, special needs students, and parents with children in state preschool going to make up time lost in a protracted work stoppage of their instructors?”

Rev. John Cager from Ward AME Church said he and other pastors decided to send the letter after praying Sunday with his South L.A. congregation, which includes teachers, parents and students.

“As an LAUSD parent and parent of a special-needs kid, I feel most strongly for the parents,” Cager said. “I know the impact on parents. It’s tough. The biggest need is for everyone to sit down, get this worked out and get everyone back in school so the kids can get a quality education. How do you end a strike if you’re not negotiating?”

Cager also said he feared that LAUSD is in such a vulnerable place that “it can’t take a huge body blow.”

A strike just may be that blow. In three days, LAUSD has lost nearly $40 million as a result of the strike.

A business organization called The Valley Industry and Commerce Association also wrote to Caputo-Pearl calling it “hugely inappropriate” that union leaders were on the picket lines with striking teachers instead of trying to work out a deal.

Union-backed protestors also stepped up pressure on the Board, and UTLA broadcast live on Facebook one group protesting at the home of Board President Monica Garcia.  

“Inside and outside, I know deep in my soul that we are all on the side of public education,” Garcia told Speak UP. “I have been and still am working hard to lift achievement in L.A. Unified by recognizing the fierce power of teachers to change lives and completely captivate this moment. My house? Your house? That’s not important. What is important is keeping kids in schools safe and learning, ending the strike and working together to increase investment for education in CA. We recognize our community supports teachers & their demands and hope we can work together to lift all children, families teachers and schools.”

Board Member Scott Schmerelson broke ranks on Wednesday with the rest of the Board, which had presented a unified front against the strike. Instead, he wrote a letter saying he wanted LAUSD to find "sources of funding buried in our existing budget" to meet UTLA demands. Even though he has access to all the district’s budget documents, he did not specify what those funding sources were and did not answer an email asking for clarification.

Student attendance at school was down on day three of the strike from the prior two days. Kids at one of the highest-performing West Side schools, Broadway Mandarin Immersion, were faring better than many, one parent said, because several Mandarin teachers who are in the United States on work visas, were concerned a strike might affect their visa status.

“Many of the classes have at least one of the team teachers present,” said one parent, whose child was complaining that he didn’t get to watch videos and play, like he expected. “That being said, the relaxed pace is a huge change from our typical academic rigor.”

One white parent from a West Side elementary school who sent her child back to school after two days at home said she was disturbed by the racial disparities she saw. While white moms were on the picket lines or taking their kids to museums and pricey strike camps, many working black and Latino parents had no choice but to send their kids to school.