Vote no on the UTLA deal

June 13, 2012

United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) has reached a tentative agreement with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) that would impose unpaid furlough days on teachers already hammered by concessions which have slashed compensation in recent years.

The deal was negotiated by new UTLA President Warren Fletcher, a one-time reformer who has accepted the argument of LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy that teachers must either cut their pay or suffer even bigger layoffs--known as reductions in force (RIFs)--than those already proposed.

The deal comes a year after LAUSD got the previous union leadership to make a similar deal--and then reneged on the promise that a pay cut would avoid layoffs. The latest concessionary agreement was approved June 11 by the UTLA House of Representatives by a 94-69 margin, and now goes to the membership for a vote that ends June 15. The Progressive Educators for Action (PEAC) caucus of UTLA opposed the deal and issued this leaflet.

ONCE AGAIN, LAUSD is using our RIF colleagues as hostages to demand furlough days. Once again, our students face unstable schools, lost school days and disappearing teachers and health and human services professionals. By granting the District more furloughs and accepting mass layoffs, this tentative agreement (TA) only feeds the cycle of RIFs and concessions that has been harming the students of Los Angeles for four years.

Some UTLA members may be saved this year by taking a massive pay cut, but LAUSD will simply put these educators back on the chopping block next year while many others continue working as subs in their own classrooms. By quietly negotiating furlough days and refusing to lead a public fight against RIFs, UTLA is letting the District get away with this deliberate destabilization of our schools.

What's wrong with this tentative agreement?

It gives away an unprecedented 10 furlough days (four of which are fake "furloughs" scheduled on holidays), which amounts to a 5.5 percent pay cut.

Teachers from the UTLA join community members to protest cuts to public schools
Teachers from the UTLA join community members to protest cuts to public schools (Paul Bailey)

It accepts the layoffs of 1,700 UTLA members, including 37 percent of adult education and 27 percent of early childhood education, and does nothing for UTLA members who were laid off in past years.

It fails to make Superintendent Deasy return the categorical funds he stole from schools in order to pay for bureaucratic priorities like test-score based evaluations (AGT) and "common core" standards.

It agrees to let the District hold its end-of-year reserves until the November election, preventing this money from being used to stop layoffs. This money will supposedly be available to reduce furloughs, but Deasy will have an opening to make up excuses for why LAUSD can't do it, just like he did this year.

It gains none of the non-monetary demands, like fewer after-school meetings, that President Fletcher and other officers trumpeted as a key component of their negotiating strategy.

After the pain and demoralization of this year, accepting another concessionary TA will only encourage LAUSD to demand more RIFs and furloughs next year, creating even more cynicism and passivity among UTLA members.

Many of us "held our noses" and voted for last year's TA, hoping that it would help us "live to fight another day" and build a fresh campaign against budget cuts and layoffs this year. We already knew then that we would have another massive RIF crisis this spring, and that LAUSD would be ready with a strategy to destabilize our schools and blame the crisis on UTLA.

Tragically, UTLA officers have done nothing to prepare or lead a strategic campaign against these attacks. To rectify this, many rank-and-file UTLA activists have made numerous proposals for organizing and mobilizing to make our union stronger. These ideas have been met with resistance and obstruction from UTLA officers. The protests rank-and-file members initiated this year against the cuts found little support, and even hostility, from the highest levels of the union. Thus, these important actions were small and disconnected from each other and didn't gain enough leverage against the District.

It's true that voting "no" means taking a risk that the District could RIF even more teachers. However, over half of the 4,149 RIFs "saved" under this TA can be saved with money that LAUSD already has in hand. This is not a simple choice between the "safe" option of ratifying the TA and guaranteed disaster if we vote it down. Voting "yes" is also a risky proposition. The TA gives LAUSD loopholes to restore fewer positions than promised and weasel out of using extra funds to reduce furloughs. Most importantly, voting "yes" risks legitimizing LAUSD's bully tactics and inviting yet another round of cuts and RIFs next spring.

Unfortunately, there's no shortcut to victory, but there is an alternative to this cycle of defeat and demoralization. While UTLA leaders ask us to vote for pay cuts and mass layoffs, teachers in San Francisco and Chicago have just voted overwhelmingly to authorize strikes against similar attacks and concessions. We should join the ranks of teachers around the country who are fighting back instead of accepting endless austerity. Waging such a struggle requires a different strategy from UTLA leadership, but it also requires more rank-and-file members to take the initiative and become union activists, and activists for public education and social justice in our communities.

It's time for UTLA to mobilize the only real power that we have--the power of an organized membership in solidarity with our community allies. We can start by saying "no" to LAUSD's constant demands that teachers and students pay the price for a crisis that we didn't cause.

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