POLITICS

Los Angeles Teachers Union Votes To End Strike, Will See Educators Go Back Wednesday

The strike lasted six school days and affected nearly half a million students.

United Teachers Los Angeles has overwhelmingly voted to end a strike of more than 30,000 educators, leaders announced Tuesday evening. The agreement ends a strike of over 30,000 educators in the nation’s second-largest school district and puts teachers back in their classrooms Wednesday.

“It’s a historic day today in Los Angeles,” UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said during a news conference. “We have preliminary numbers from the vote on our agreement, and they show that a vast supermajority are voting yes for the agreement that we made with LAUSD, therefore ending the strike and heading back to schools tomorrow.”

Caputo-Pearl noted that the group didn’t get “everything we wanted,” specifically pointing to special education, but said “that’s part of the struggle with negotiations,” according to KABC-TV reporter Josh Haskell in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Unified School District teachers had been on strike since last Monday, after 20 months of failed negotiations with the district. They have been demanding guarantees of smaller class sizes and increased support staff.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and district Superintendent Austin Beutner called the agreement “historic” during a news conference Tuesday morning.

Today marks a new chapter in public education and a new chapter in Los Angeles Unified,” said Beutner.

The agreement makes key concessions on issues like support staff and class sizes, axing a previous contract provision that allowed the district to ignore class size caps. Classes will be reduced by at least one student starting next school year ― with more reductions in the neediest schools. Reductions will continue over the next several years. In the lead-up to the strike, teachers complained of having over 40 kids in some classrooms. 

The deal guarantees a full-time nurse at every school over time, as well as an increase in librarians and school counselors. Some schools currently have a nurse for only one day a week.

“This is much more than just a narrow labor agreement, it’s a broad compact,” Caputo-Pearl said at the news conference, noting the agreement also addresses issues of social and racial justice. It includes a dedicated attorney for immigrant families and support for implementation of an ethnic studies curriculum.

Tensions around the power of charter schools in the district also played a key role in the strike. An agreement, though not formally in the deal, calls for the state to create a committee on charter schools at the next Board of Education meeting, and vote on a resolution for a charter school cap. At the district level, the deal gives the union more say in the design of co-location sites, where traditional public schools and charter schools share space.  

As part of the deal, teachers will also be receiving a 6 percent salary increase. 

While Beutner had long said that the district could not afford to pay for the teachers’ demands, UTLA, the mayor’s office and the district are pledging to collaboratively advocate for more county and state funding. 

Still, there are “tremendous concerns about insolvency,” Beutner said. California provides some of the lowest levels of per-pupil funding in the nation.

The two sides had bargained deep Monday night, into Tuesday morning. The talks had only ceased around 6 a.m. on Tuesday morning. Teachers are expected to approve the deal Tuesday. The district board must also approve the agreement. 

The strike impacted almost half a million students. While Los Angeles schools stayed open during the strike ― relying on just a few hundred non-unionized substitute teachers to supervise ― only a fraction of the district’s students attended schools during that time. Last Thursday, attendance reached a low of only around 84,000 students, according to the district. The students who went to school described being corralled into auditoriums and watching movies or given busy work. Parents who decided to keep their kids out of school during the strike also scrambled to find child care.

The strike came on the heels of a “red state rebellion” which swept states like Kentucky, Arizona and West Virginia last spring and summer. Only this time, teachers were clashing with a Democratic school superintendent, in the heart of the deeply blue state. In the background of the strike were tensions over the future of charter schools in the district ― a cause that has both critics and proponents within the party.

“This conflict is forcing the issue of school privatization and charter schools in the Democratic Party,” Lois Weiner, an independent researcher and consultant who has studied teachers unions, previously told HuffPost.

National attention given to the strike helped push a deal forward, said the leaders. Indeed, the strike received attention and support from national Democratic leaders like Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). 

Caputo-Pearl called the strike a pivotal show of force for labor unions and a positive sign for the future of public education.

“This strike has not only moved this agreement, but raised the issue of public education not only nationally but internationally,” said Caputo-Pearl. 

This article has been updated with the union voting to end the strike.

Nick Visser contributed to this report.

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