Mediation Fails Between LAUSD, Teachers Union; Potential Strike Looms

posted by City News Service - 

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A third day of mediation efforts between the Los Angeles Unified School District and its teachers' union failed to produce a labor agreement, moving the stalemate into a fact-finding period and one step closer to the district's first teacher strike since 1989.

Negotiators for the district and the United Teachers Los Angeles union met with a state mediator Friday -- the third session in the past three weeks -- but the sides moved no closer to a labor agreement. In fact, tensions between the district and union have only increased.

Following Friday's mediation session, the LAUSD filed another unfair labor practice charge against the union with the state, accusing UTLA of refusing to participate in “good faith” in the mediation effort.

“By UTLA's own admission, the only reason UTLA participated in mediation was to ensure that it could move quickly to a strike,” LAUSD attorney David Holmquist said in a statement.

District officials also issued a statement accusing the union of “making no compromises toward reaching an agreement for the better part of 18 months,” and insisting that the union's “last, best and final” contract demands would bankrupt the district “and lead to the unprecedented layoffs of about 12,000 employees.”

Union officials, however, insisted that its negotiators “made a good faith effort in mediation to reach an agreement, but unfortunately LAUSD officials did not do the same, failing to offer any substantial proposals to reinvest in our schools, just as they have neglected to do over the 18 months we have been in bargaining.

UTLA officials have previously insisted the district has nearly $1.9 billion in reserve funds that could be used for improvements in classrooms while boosting teacher salaries.

“The district thinks they can buy us off with a modest pay raise, but our fight has never been just about salary,” UTLA President Alex Caputo- Pearl said. “What's driving educators is the absolute need to fix what we see every day: too many overcrowded classrooms where kids have to share desks, schools with a nurse only one day a week and overloaded psychologists and counselors doing their best to triage the socio-emotional needs of our students.

“The school district claims it can't afford these very basic student needs,” he said. “We are ready to go to fact-finding and force the district to defend its position.”

Union officials have repeatedly blasted LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner in recent weeks, accusing him of spreading “disinformation” about the contract talks. Last week, union officials blasted Beutner for holding high- dollar meetings at ritzy Southland restaurants, often with charter-school advocates and operators.

Union officials said Beutner's calendar revealed 34 meetings at restaurants during the four-month period, compared to 29 visits to school campuses. Beutner “must explain to the public why he was at these expensive restaurants and clubs during school hours,” teacher Victoria Casas said at the news conference at UTLA headquarters.

A key union demand in contract talks is for stepped-up accountability for district charter schools.

In their statement, LAUSD officials said, “Los Angeles Unified will participate in good faith in the fact-finding process, but also remains open to any other way to resolve the issues fairly and transparently, including working toward a resolution. Instead of fighting each other, Los Angeles Unified and UTLA need to work together to make sure all of our students get the great education they deserve.”

With mediation ending without a resolution, the impasse between the district and union now moves into a fact-finding period, during which an independent third party reviews the arguments of both sides and recommends a potential solution.

Following the fact-finding period, the union could call for a strike. UTLA's membership has already overwhelmingly voted to authorize its leadership to call a strike.

In late September, the district updated its contract offer to UTLA, with Beutner saying the proposal includes a 6 percent pay raise over two years and class-size reductions at 15 middle schools and 75 elementary schools determined to have the “highest need.”

The offer “shows our commitment to helping students most in need,” Beutner said. “Our offer creates a pathway for L.A. Unified and UTLA to avoid a strike that would hurt L.A.'s most vulnerable students and families.”

UTLA, however, called the proposal “insulting” and a “stunning example of disrespect” to its members.

“Beutner's proposal does nothing to make our schools better,” Arlene Inouye, head of the union's negotiating team, said. “This is an insult to our members, to our students and to our parents. This stunt reveals he is more interested in fighting against educators at any cost than saving our school district.”

The district's proposal includes a 3 percent pay raise retroactive to the 2017-18 school year, and another 3 percent for 2018-19. The second increase is contingent on the district's financial picture, with the raising taking effect “if the board's spring 2019 Second Interim Financial Report shows positive projected ending balances for 2018-19 and 2019-20.”

According to the district, the proposal also includes the chance for teachers to earn extra pay for taking science, technology, engineering, math or dual-language instruction courses.

Union officials said the district's offer regarding class-size reductions means no improvements for 90 percent of campuses, and the district would still have the ability to increase class sizes at any time. The proposal would also make it “more difficult to quality for secure health care in retirement,” according to the union.

The union is asking for a 6.5 percent pay increase retroactive to July 1, 2016, along with provisions for class-size reductions, accountability measures for charter schools and limits on standardized testing, among other provisions.

District officials said the union's contract proposal would increase the LAUSD's existing $500 million deficit in the current school year by another $813 million.

Although the union argues the district has adequate money in its reserve funds, the district contends those funds are already being used to cover budget shortfalls, which are expected to continue over the next three years -- an assertion also strongly disputed by the union.

Photo: Getty Images

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