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LA teachers make gains after large mobilization

By Randall Childs, United Teachers Los Angeles | February 23, 2007 | Page 15

LOS ANGELES--On the first day of balloting for a strike authorization vote, leaders of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) announced a tentative agreement on a three-year union contract covering 48,000 teachers at the second-largest school district in the U.S.

The deal--the first contract negotiated by the reform union leadership that took office in 2005--includes a landmark agreement from LAUSD to lower class sizes in all schools by two students per class over the next three years. The agreement also offers teachers a 6 percent pay raise for the first year of the contract.

Salaries for the second and third years of the contract would be subject to future re-opener negotiations. By comparison, UTLA members hadn't received anything more than 3 percent in more than five years--and endured a salary freeze in 2003.

UTLA also gained a clause that allows UTLA to force the district into mediation if we determine that a union member's involuntary transfer is related to union activities--ratifying the victory won when the involuntary transfer of Crenshaw High School UTLA Chairperson Alex Caputo-Pearl was reversed last fall as a result of union and community protests.

Then, on December 6, more than 5,000 UTLA members--many of whom spontaneously decided to block rush-hour traffic--rallied outside of LAUSD headquarters for a 9 percent raise, smaller class sizes, and local control of the schools.

In January, teachers boycotted faculty meetings and planned a February strike authorization vote and regional contract rallies for February 21. UTLA President A.J. Duffy declared that teachers would strike if we didn't get what we wanted.

Next, a scandal erupted over a new payroll system that short-changed thousands of teachers and other LAUSD workers. This mounting pressure made LAUSD eager for a deal. Unfortunately, the UTLA leadership--which ousted an entrenched bureaucracy in a vote in 2005--was also eager to settle.

Immediately after the tentative agreement was reached, UTLA leaders canceled the strike vote and rallies, preferring to put the union's energies and money into the March school board elections.

This orientation is reminiscent of the Duffy leadership's endorsement of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's plan for partial mayoral control of the schools--a move that was later rejected in a UTLA membership referendum and struck down in the courts.

"We blinked first," argued Mat Taylor, UTLA Chairperson at Fremont High School in South Central LA and a member of the union's Board of Directors. "Fremont [faculty] was pissed. People felt let down by the leadership in its commitment to organizing. We thought we could have gotten more, and we were ready to do more."

This tentative agreement is a victory--but it was a mistake for union leaders to call off the fight so abruptly when more could have been gained. With the re-opener negotiation a few short months away, and billions of dollars being stolen from public education for war and prisons, plenty of urgent reasons remain for UTLA members to continue to escalate our level of organization and activism.

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