Teaching Profession

5 Things to Know About Today’s Los Angeles Teacher Strike

By Madeline Will — January 13, 2019 4 min read
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Tens of thousands of Los Angeles teachers will head to the picket lines on Monday morning in the first major teacher strike of the new year.

Officials from the Los Angeles Unified school district and the United Teachers Los Angeles had a last-ditch round of negotiations on Friday, but failed to come to an agreement. The teachers’ union declined to negotiate further over the weekend.

“We are more convinced than ever that the district won’t move [in its offer] without a strike,” said UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl in a news conference on Sunday. “Let us be clear, teachers do not want to strike. Teachers strike when they have no other options.”

See also: All Eyes Are on Los Angeles as 30,000 Teachers Prepare to Strike

The last time there was a teachers’ strike in Los Angeles was 1989. Here’s what you should know about this large-scale protest:

1. Teacher pay is not the forefront issue in the strike. The district and the union are not that far apart on pay raises—the district has proposed a 6 percent raise, while the union is holding out for 6.5 percent. But most of the issues still causing contention are related to student learning conditions, like smaller class sizes and more school nurses, counselors, and librarians.

“We’re tired with having to do more with less,” said Joseph Zeccola, a high school English teacher and a UTLA chapter chair. “It shouldn’t be an unsustainable hardship to be a good teacher.”

Los Angeles Unified’s latest offer would add nearly 1,200 teachers, nurses, counselors, and librarians to the more than 900 schools in the district. The district has said it can’t afford the union’s demands. However, the union has dismissed the offer as “inadequate,” and argued that many of the new positions would be funded for just one year.

2. This will be a huge strike. Los Angeles Unified is the second-largest school district in the nation, so this strike will affect a lot of people. There are more than 600,000 students and about 30,000 teachers in the district. To put that in context, there are just 250,000 students and 20,000 teachers in all of West Virginia, where there was a statewide teachers’ strike last year.

3. Schools will be open during the strike. The district is planning to keep schools open during the strike, and have student learning continue as much as possible. Administrators and substitute teachers will provide instruction, and students will continue to receive school meals.

Many principals are planning to gather students in large spaces in their schools, such as gyms and auditoriums. For example, one elementary principal told Education Week that he plans to divide students into three groups based on grade level, and rotate them during the day. The principal will oversee instruction in English/language arts, and district staffers will handle the other subjects, helped by teaching assistants and aides.

The district has plans to bring in 400 substitutes, but the Los Angeles Times reports that contracts were signed to bring in more than 4,400 substitutes from outside agencies. The substitutes from the agencies would make more than regular district substitutes. (The union has pledged to fight the district on the outside hiring, saying that it would “consider legal action.”) Parents are also expected to help out in schools during the strike, especially now that the school board has relaxed restrictions on volunteering.

Meanwhile, education workers—like teachers’ assistants, custodians, cafeteria workers, and bus drivers—will be at work for the most part. But their union announced that workers at 10 of the district’s schools will stage a “sympathy strike"—meaning they will not perform the work of teachers and will refuse assignments that are “unlawful or unsafe.” Some of these sympathy strikes will last one day, with others lasting until an agreement between UTLA and the district is reached.

4. The district may try again to bring special education teachers back to the classroom. Last week, a federal judge blocked the school district from trying to prevent special education teachers from going on strike. The district had argued that those employees were essential to the district’s legally required responsibility to adequately educate students with disabilities. The judge said the attempt was “premature,” but that the district could file a claim against the union once the strike started.

The district said in a statement that it will “take all steps necessary to protect the health, safety, and educational rights of students with disabilities, as well as of all students, including the filing of legal actions.”

5. This is the first major blue-state teacher action. Aside from the protests in Colorado, all of the statewide teacher labor actions last year happened in red states: West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, and North Carolina.

The Los Angeles strike is different from those statewide actions—it’s against the superintendent and school board, rather than the state legislature and governor, and it’s union-led, rather than grassroots-driven. Still, the fact that teachers are walking out in the liberal city of Los Angeles signals a shift in the #RedForED movement. And it could inspire teachers in other California cities—Oakland teachers are weighing a strike, and over a dozen local union chapters in the state staged “walk ins” last week in support of their peers.

Image: Manuela Panjoj, a mother of five children, holds a sign during a news conference outside the Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters Jan. 9. —Jae C. Hong/AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.