District suddenly discovers how to fund health care
By Randy Childs, United Teachers Los Angeles | June 11, 2004 | Page 11
LOS ANGELES--As Socialist Worker went to press, members of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) were gearing up for their second mass picket and rally in as many weeks at the headquarters of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). LAUSD has been threatening teachers and other school workers with massive cuts in our health care benefits.
Last fall, LAUSD predicted a $120 million increase in the cost of employee health care. The school board claimed that they could only afford to increase health care expenditures by $60 million--and asked UTLA members to make up the other $60 million with some combination of monthly premiums, increased co-pays and decreased services.
UTLA leaders spent the whole year arguing that we needed to "face reality" and be prepared to accept some form of health care cuts. But rank-and-file teachers remained largely unconvinced of this "reality" and repeatedly expressed their opposition to any health care cuts in at least two internal UTLA surveys.
A small core of UTLA activists organized around the dissident rank-and-file group Progressive Educators for Action (PEAC) has spent the year campaigning against the cuts. PEAC argued that LAUSD could afford to cover health care costs by cutting its notoriously bloated administrative bureaucracy.
PEAC demanded that UTLA leaders stop asking members to "pick our poison" and instead launch a mobilization campaign against health care cuts. While such a campaign hasn't materialized, this pressure from below forced the UTLA to delay any acceptance of cuts, dragging out negotiations on the contract, which expired last summer.
In the wake of a PEAC-initiated May 25 picket and rally of more than 600 teachers and supporters outside a meeting of the School Board, the LAUSD administration has apparently changed its tune. According to some members of UTLA's Board of Directors, LAUSD negotiators have approached the union with a new contract proposal containing no health care cuts!
The district now says it overestimated the cost of employee health care benefits by about $60 million--the same amount they've been threatening to cut! If this pans out, it could be an opportunity for UTLA and other school unions to go on the offensive against the district.
Now, we can link demands to cut the bureaucracy with demands to reverse school site job and budget cuts--and even pay school employees a long-awaited raise! We're going to need more mobilizations like May 25 to keep the pressure on LAUSD.