Los Angeles teachers face impending austerity as contract expires

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Are you a teacher from Los Angeles? Make your voice heard and tell us what you think are the most important issues in your fight. We will keep your identity anonymous.

With the contract between United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) and the Los Angeles, California Public Schools expiring June 30, teachers, school nurses, school librarians and other staff should be advised that in these so- saying “negotiations”, they face two adversaries. , the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), and their own union. The upcoming contract will be the fourth since the six-day strike in January 2019. In each of these struggles, UTLA leadership has represented the interests not of educators and students, but of big business, the LAUSD and the Democratic Party.

UTLA, which negotiates for 35,000 educators, nurses, librarians and other public school workers in Los Angeles, Calif., is negotiating a new two-year contract with LAUSD, attended by 600,000 students, making it the second largest United States school district.

The current contract fight is taking place against the backdrop of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic which has severely affected the lives of students and educators, as well as war, rampant inflation and the impending recession.

Teachers are making enormous personal sacrifices as they work under enormous pressure, compounded by the COVID pandemic and the lack of safety measures in public schools. In the first year of the pandemic, the retirement rate increased by 26%. Additionally, at least 55% are considering early retirement. Schools are hemorrhaging staff largely due to insufficient living wages and educators are experiencing “burnout”. This comes despite the recent estimate of a $33 billion budget surplus for California’s TK-12 public schools.

The UTLA negotiation proposals presented last May are based on a platform published last February called “Beyond Recovery”, a so-called “social justice” approach, supposedly based on consultations between parents and teachers. UTLA President Cecily Myart Cruz explained that after supposedly recovering from the coronavirus pandemic, the school system needs to move on.

The union has put forward a series of demands, largely for public show, which it has no intention of fighting seriously. For the most part, the demands raised by the union are open to interpretation or are so general that they make no sense. They include fully staffed schools, measures to attract and retain educators, higher salaries and better working conditions, equitable access for all students, smaller class sizes, more learning time, less standardized testing, ethnic studies, special education, equitable access to technology, schools, opposition to student criminalization, green and healthy public schools, support for students, families and communities (homelessness, food insecurity) , equitable financing of schools.

The teachers’ union is also demanding a 20% salary increase over two years, with 10% per year. In 2021, UTLA negotiated a 5% year-over-year increase. If realized, these increases would barely match current and projected price inflation rates in Southern California.

The management’s counter-proposal rejects the union’s wage demand and calls for measures that strengthen the existing reactionary anti-strike clause of the 2019-2022 agreement. Essentially, the strike clause reinforces the role that the UTLA and the two national education unions (NEA and AFT) already play in isolating strikes and controlling their own members.

The school district is demanding significant changes to the existing no-strike clause that, in addition to banning strikes and slowdowns, would leave workers at the mercy of the courts. LAUSD’s counter-proposal states that:

“There will be no strikes, work stoppages or disruptions, or other concerted activities that directly or indirectly interfere with the operations of the District during the term of this Agreement or any written extension thereof. this.” In addition: “Any employee who violates this article will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination.”

The UTLA itself is enlisted as a teacher police for “immediately take all appropriate measures necessary to prevent and terminate any concerted activity in violation of this article”. This would require the UTLA to inform teachers that “Engaging in such activity may result in disciplinary action and that activity is prohibited.”

Despite the severity of these provisions, the day after the district counter, UTLA’s only “action” was to post a Facebook banner that read “Our union is strong because our members are strong.”

In some ways, UTLA’s current demands and posture are a repeat of those of 2019. The January 2019 Los Angeles teachers’ strike abruptly ended in six days and sold out by UTLA. In addition to a slight pay increase, the new contract fell short of teachers’ most critical demands, such as reducing class sizes, halting the expansion of charter schools, and increased school budgets. The union dutifully lobbied for a “yes” vote on the 40-page contract, isolating the strikers from each other and giving UTLA members no time to meet and discuss its terms.

While the LAUSD agreed to hire more school nurses and librarians, the union agreed to an escape clause that allowed the district to roll back claiming there was no money.

Three years later, most hiring commitments have not been fulfilled. The betrayal of the 2019 strike paved the way for a closer union-management alliance against teachers in Los Angeles. This includes the July 2021 agreement to reopen public schools for the 2021-2022 school term, based on the most fragile of health protections in crowded classrooms with the pandemic raging in Southern California.

This follows the line of Governor Gavin Newsom’s Democratic Party administration, which oversaw the abandonment of COVID mitigation measures as part of the Biden administration’s policy of “living with the virus.” Meanwhile, California Democrats continue to starve public schools of critical funding and resources while supporting the spread of charter schools.

Implementing the Democratic Party’s mass infection policies, UTLA presented an ultimatum to teachers warning that if teachers vote “no,” the district would unilaterally force reopening anyway. Demonstrating the level of opposition in the district, only 12,000 UTLA members voted, with more than half or 18,000 UTLA members abstaining. The real purpose of reopening the school was to facilitate the reopening of the California economy by sending parents back to work, putting their own safety and that of students and teachers at risk.

This agreement was followed by a reopening of contracts and salaries in September 2021 which, apart from attempting to spread illusions, did nothing to improve the safety of LAUSD employees or students. On the contrary, in the past nine months, almost all security mitigation measures related to COVID-19 have been lifted in the district. Mask mandates were lifted in March. And in mid-June, the district announced the end of its weekly PCR testing for students. Take-home rapid antigen tests will be administered to students symptomatic of COVID-19 as well as exposed students. Hundreds of thousands of students and staff have been infected and re-infected in schools, and under current policies this will only continue with reduced monitoring and reporting.

These current “negotiations” consist of more empty promises about COVID-19 protections, in addition to preparing attacks on living standards and the democratic rights of teachers and students.

Yet with the current contract expiring on Thursday, to date UTLA management has not called a strike or other industrial action.

This year’s so-called negotiations are taking place amid a global wave of strikes and protests, including teachers and public school educators around the world. Last week, 50,000 British railway workers issued a direct challenge to the right-wing Johnson government in response to inflation rates that have reached more than 11%, while 120,000 teachers in New South Wales, Australia, are expected to leave next week.

LAUSD’s demands for the UTLA to serve as a strike suppression force is an indication of the fear of both the union, the school district and the ruling class that the continued explosion of strikes and walkouts by educators, healthcare workers and logistics workers did reach a revolutionary dimension.

It is essential that educators learn from all of these experiences and follow the example of other educators in the United States and take the fight into their own hands. New struggle organizations are needed. Teachers must form rank-and-file committees, independent of the unions, to mobilize the working class on the basis not of what the powers that be claim they can afford, but of what is necessary to secure social rights of all workers, including the right to quality public education.

The successive betrayals of the UTLA leadership necessitated the formation of workers’ committees which fought both against the management and against its agents in the unions. We urge UTLA members to join the Educator Safety Committee in a common fight to defend wages, health and safety, and education rights around the world.

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