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'Historic Day for American Unions': Los Angeles Teachers Strike Earns Victory for Labor, Public Education

"Teachers, students, parents, and their neighbors came together in the pouring rain to make historic demands for public education."

LA strike

Educators, parents, students, and supporters of the Los Angeles teachers strike wave and cheer in Grand Park on Jan. 22, 2019 in downtown Los Angeles, California. (Photo: Scott Heins/Getty Images)

Los Angeles public school teachers at the nation's second-largest district ended a six-day strike late Tuesday after union members voted to approve a deal—hailed as a major victory for organized labor—that's designed to raise salaries, cap class sizes and charter schools, and direct more funding to schools for nurses, counselors, and other support staff positions.

Welcoming the vote of approval by a "vast supermajority" of educators from the Los Angeles Unified School District, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) president Alex Caputo-Pearl said in a statement, "For too long teachers have lived with a hard truth to tell—that for years our students were being starved of the resources they need."

"Our expectations were fundamentally raised by this strike," Caputo-Pearl added. "Together we said we deserve better, our students deserve better. We must keep our expectations high and not let go of this moment, because the next struggle is right around the corner."

The Los Angeles chapter of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)—which supported the city's first strike in three decades—declared, "this fight was won with union power AND community power," and thanked those who "came together in the pouring rain to make historic demands for public education."

"This strike and the community support of the teacher strikers flipped the debate over public education in L.A. on its head. And the result is nothing short of a sea change for public schools and for educators in L.A. and in the country," said American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten.

"For the last 10 years, the political forces in Los Angeles haven't valued public schools, nor respected the people who teach in them," she noted. "This was a fight for the soul of public education. It was a fight to invest in public schools after decades of neglect, and while one contract can't fix everything, this is a starting point."

Caputo-Pearl announced the preliminary results at a Tuesday night press conference. "It was a dramatic end to a dramatic day that started with Caputo-Pearl and L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner emerging from an all-night negotiating session at City Hall," the Los Angeles Times reports. Democratic Mayor Eric Garcetti—a possible 2020 presidential candidate—and his senior staffers served as mediators.

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UTLA has been at odds with Beutner—a former investment banker with no background in education who they charge is pro-charter schools—since the school board installed him last year. The district has about 500,000 students enrolled in its public schools and has more charter schools than anywhere else in the country.

While the agreement has been approved by the teachers, according to the Times, "before it can take effect, the deal must be reviewed by the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which will report on whether it thinks L.A. Unified can afford the terms. The L.A. school board has scheduled a vote for Jan. 29. The board's approval is expected."

Although it did not meet all of the educators' demands, UTLA concluded that "the agreement is a paradigm shift and delivers on the defining demands of our contract campaign." Detailing the deal's key components, the union highlighted:

  • A much-deserved 6 percent pay raise with no contingencies;
  • A nurse in every school five days a week;
  • Hard caps on class size that will lower class sizes immediately in 2019-20, with more improvements every year after;
  • Counselor-student ratios of 1:500;
  • Commitment to reduce testing by 50 percent;
  • A teacher librarian in every secondary school five days a week;
  • Investment in community schools;
  • Clear pathway to cap charters;
  • Hard caps on special education caseloads and release time for testing;
  • Important wins for adult ed, early ed, and substitute educators; and
  • Progress on common good demands on ending random searches, expanding green space, and supporting immigrant families.

The #LAUSDStrike followed #RedForEd walkouts and rallies across Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia last year.

Putting the strike into a broader context, National Education Association (NEA) president Lily Eskelsen García accused state legislatures and school districts of "starving public education" and pushing harmful privatization schemes while "asking educators to do far more with far less."

"The corporate billionaires behind the growth of unaccountable charter schools have been privatizing public education and diverting resources from our children to their wallets," she said. "The message Los Angeles educators sent during this week-long strike is loud and clear: The public does not support any efforts that follow [Education Secretary] Betsy DeVos's lead to privatize, de-professionalize, and undermine public education."

What the uprising by teachers and their allies in Los Angeles represents, Garcia added, "is not a moment but a movement of and by educators who are fighting for the public schools our students deserve. We're raising our voices together for our students, for our schools and for ourselves as educators. That's why educators in Los Angeles and all over this country are #RedForEd."

As union members in L.A. voted to approve the agreement on Tuesday, 93 percent of Denver teachers and support staff voted to go on the first strike in 25 years, which is expected to start next Monday.

Teacher Rob Gould, a member of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association negotiation team, told Chalkbeat, "They're striking for better pay, they're striking for our profession, and they're striking for Denver students."

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