Will LAUSD and Teachers' Union Return to Contract Talks?

Teachers union ready to strike

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - With a potential strike just a week away, the union representing Los Angeles Unified teachers said today it is prepared to meet with school district labor negotiators Monday if they have a “legitimate and clear” contract offer to discuss, an offer the district said it welcomes.

Whether the two sides will actually return to the bargaining table was not immediately clear.

The district on Wednesday accused United Teachers Los Angeles of refusing to engage in further negotiating sessions -- an accusation the union flatly denied. The union accused Superintendent Austin Beutner of trying to negotiate through the media and attempting to subvert the bargaining process by sending a letter directly to UTLA members.

On Thursday morning, UTLA officials said the union reached out to a district labor negotiator to say “that our bargaining team is available to meet on Monday if the district has a legitimate and clear offer for us to consider. We hope they do, as we would like to make progress on bargaining if possible.”

In response, the LAUSD issued a statement saying, “We welcome UTLA's willingness to return to contract negotiations to avoid a strike that would do nothing to increase funding for public education or would only hurt the students, families and communities most in need. Los Angeles Unified remains committed to doing everything possible to avoid a strike and provide Los Angeles students with the best education possible.”

UTLA has scheduled a strike to begin Jan. 10 if no contract agreement with the district is reached. The two sides have already gone through mediation and a fact-finding session. The fact finder's report was issued last month, and it sparked more verbal sparring between the two sides.

The district insisted Wednesday that its most recent contract offer to the union incorporates many of the recommendations including in the fact- finding report, such as a 6 percent pay raise, a $30 million investment in hiring of professional staff and reducing class sizes and elimination of a section of the labor agreement that the union claims would allow the district to unilaterally increase class size.

UTLA officials said many elements of the district's latest offer remain “unclear,” suggesting that the 6 percent salary increase still appears to be contingent on cuts to future union members' health care and contending the offer also appears to maintain the contract section allowing increases in class size. The union is also continuing to push for increased district investment in hiring of counselors, nurses, librarians and other professional staff, saying the $30 million proposed by the district would have a negligible impact on only a small percentage of LAUSD campuses.

The union has been pushing the district to tap into an estimated $1.8 billion reserve fund to hire more staff and reduce class sizes. The LAUSD claims the staffing increases being demanded by the union would cost an estimated $786 million a year, further depleting a district already facing a $500 million deficit.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told reporters Thursday morning that he spent time during the holidays “speaking to parties” involved in the contract dispute, including Beutner, union leaders and school board members. But he said a strike appears to be unavoidable.

“I've offered this space of City Hall as a neutral space for parties to meet,” he said. “I think that the strike is all but inevitable, but I hope that it will be short-lived and that we can have an agreement that will come shortly thereafter.”

Photo: Getty Images

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