LOS ANGELES (CNS) - More than a half-million Los Angeles Unified School District students will return to class today while the union representing their teachers will return to the bargaining table with district labor negotiators in hopes of averting the LAUSD's first teachers' strike since 1989.
United Teachers Los Angeles bargaining chair Arlene Inouye said Friday the union hopes to see a “real offer that addresses all of our issues. They'll try to make this about salary. It is not.”
Union President Alex Caputo-Pearl added, “We look forward to having that conversation with the district on Monday and trying to reach an agreement.”
On Thursday, Mayor Eric Garcetti said he believed a teacher strike was “inevitable,” but Caputo-Pearl said the union was committed to working toward a resolution of the labor dispute.
“We are going into Monday trying to reach an agreement, so we certainly don't think that a strike is inevitable,” he said. “... That said, we are ready to strike if we have to ... Yes, we're going to try to negotiate and avert a strike.”
On Wednesday, LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner accused the union of refusing to engage in further negotiating sessions -- an accusation the union flatly denied. The union accused Beutner of trying to negotiate through the media and attempting to subvert the bargaining process by sending a letter directly to UTLA members.
The union on Thursday 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.”
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.”
Whether Monday's talks will actually lead to a breakthrough and avert a strike -- set to begin Thursday, or possibly a few days later -- was unknown.
The start date for the strike depends, in part, on Beutner's third attempt to get an injunction based on alleged “insufficient notice of intent to strike” that union officials are calling “unsubstantiated” and “disingenuous.”
If the school district succeeds with the injunction, it could delay the strike by a few days, Caputo-Pearl said.
“He (Beutner) is desperate to contain our collective power and the only way he knows how to do it is through costly legal maneuvers,” the union president said.
The two sides have been negotiating for nearly two years without coming close to a resolution. They've already gone through mediation and a fact- finding session in recent months. 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.
The district filed federal court papers Thursday in hopes of preventing teachers who serve special-education students from taking part in a strike, noting that the district's special-ed programs are monitored under a federal consent decree. The union decried the move, saying the district was “using our most vulnerable students as pawns.”
A federal judge denied that claim Friday.
The union has also blasted the district for hiring an estimated 400 substitute teachers who can be brought in if a strike does occur. Caputo-Pearl said the union believes the move is illegal, and will do little to allay the impact of a teachers' strike.
“There are 600,000 students, and hiring 400 substitutes is not going to do a lot,” he said.
The exact time and location of Monday's bargaining session was not immediately released, but the Los Angeles Times reported that it is tentatively scheduled to take place at City Hall at the invitation of Mayor Eric Garcetti, who told the newspaper that he had not been invited into the room with the parties, but that he was prepared to participate in any way that would be helpful.
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