Teachers' Strike Enters Sixth School Day

Teachers' Strike Enters Sixth School Day

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - In spite of reported progress in their negotiations with the Los Angeles Unified School District, the district's teachers will strike for at least one more day today -- stretching the first work stoppage by LAUSD teachers in 30 years to a sixth school day.

Representatives of the United Teachers Los Angeles and the LAUSD conducted contract talks at City Hall Monday for the fifth straight day in an effort to resolve the strike. UTLA “remains committed to bargaining through the night in order to reach an agreement,” according to a statement issued by the union Monday night.

Bargaining sessions were held throughout the weekend, but failed to result in a contract agreement to end the walkout that began Jan. 14, although a statement from the mayor's office described the talks as productive.

“We've been working tirelessly to reach an agreement and have made tremendous progress with five days and 50 hours of negotiation,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said Monday. “The parties are at the table and I am optimistic that we have the momentum to take the final steps toward bringing teachers and young people back to classrooms.”

Sunday's negotiating session started at about 11 a.m. and stretched late into the night. Talks resumed at 9:15 a.m. Monday, according to Garcetti's office.

Just after 10 p.m. Sunday, Garcetti tweeted: “Today was a productive day of negotiations with UTLA and LAUSD. All parties reaffirm their commitment to continuing negotiations into the night and into tomorrow to resolve the remaining issues as soon as possible.”

There was no announcement on what had been achieved or if a resolution was at hand. The union issued a statement Monday morning saying, “We are making progress” but striking teachers plan to return to the picket lines on Tuesday even if a tentative agreement with the district were reached.

“If a tentative agreement is reached, it cannot be immediately enacted until a vote of the entire membership takes place,” the statement said.

Voting on a tentative agreement will “happen in a streamlined voting process at school sites and within a span of a few hours, but it must take place before UTLA members will go back to work,” the statement said.

“During that time, we will also be communicating with parents and community members about the TA (tentative agreement). We have no official agreement in place until our members vote on the TA.”

In addition to picketing at schools, the union is also planning a march from City Hall to LAUSD headquarters on Tuesday morning. They will benefit from a show of support by more than 1,000 firefighters from across the U.S and Canada who belong to the International Association of Fire Fighters.

Teachers' Strike Enters Sixth School Day

The firefighters said in a statement that beginning at 6 a.m., they will march from The Westin Bonaventure Hotel to the Miguel Contreras Education Center to express support for UTLA positions. They will hold a news conference at the Education Center at 6:45 a.m.

The teachers and the district returned to the negotiating table late Thursday morning following last Monday's walkout. With the mayor's office acting as mediator, the opposing teams met for more than 12 hours before recessing shortly after midnight.

Bargaining sessions on Friday, Saturday and Sunday also began about 11 a.m. and continued throughout the afternoon and evening. Friday's talks adjourned after more than 10 hours and Saturday's after about 11 hours, 30 minutes.

Superintendent Austin Beutner has reiterated his insistence that the district does not have the money to fully meet UTLA's demands, but said he is prepared to continue talks “to do what we have to do to make sure schools are open on Tuesday.”

UTLA teachers went on strike calling for increased pay, smaller class sizes and the hiring of more support staff, such as nurses, counselors and librarians. The last time teachers went on strike in Los Angeles was 1989, and the walkout lasted nine days.

Beutner said the union's demands would cost billions of dollars and bankrupt a district already teetering on insolvency.

The district earlier this month presented the union with an offer that included the hiring of 1,200 teachers, capping middle and high school English/math classes at 39 students, capping grades four through six at 35 students, maintaining all other existing class sizes, adding a full-time nurse at every elementary school and adding another academic counselor at high schools.

UTLA officials rejected the proposal, saying it did not go far enough to bolster school staffing, reduce class sizes and prevent them from increasing in the future. The union also blasted the district's staff-increase proposal for being only a one-year offer, and contended the district's salary increase proposal is contingent on benefit cuts to future union members.

The LAUSD has offered teachers a 6 percent raise spread over the first two years of a three-year contract while UTLA wants a 6.5 percent raise that would take effect all at once and a year sooner.

The union disputes the district's claim it cannot afford more extensive investment in school staffing, pointing to what it calls an estimated $1.8 billion reserve fund and insisting the district has not faced a financial deficit in five years. The district contends that reserve fund is already being spent, in part on the salary increase for teachers.

The second-largest school district in the nation, the LAUSD covers 710 square miles and serves more than 694,000 students at 1,322 schools, although 216 schools are independent charter schools, most of which are staffed with non-union teachers unaffected by the strike. The district says about 500,000 students have been affected by the walkout.

Photos: Getty Images

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