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The UTLA strike was personal for Josh Pechthalt

SIX DAYS THAT SHOOK LOS ANGELES – PART 4


Manual Arts High School has a proud 109-year history. Alumni include painter Jackson Pollock, actor Paul Winfield, and tennis champion Richard “Pancho” Gonzalez. Former teacher Josh Pechthalt was shaped by – and has helped to reshape – the South L.A. fixture.

CFT President Josh Pechthalt was a student at Fairfax High in 1970, when United Teachers Los Angeles struck for nearly a month. He later taught social studies at Manual Arts High School for more than 20 years, and was on the front lines in 1989, when UTLA struck a second time. 

Pechthalt left Manual to serve as a vice president of UTLA, on the AFT side of the merged local union, followed by four terms as head of the California Federation of Teachers. As CFT president, he has focused on the statewide fight for fair taxation to save public education, but as UTLA contract talks with Los Angeles Unified dragged into their second year, it became clear that his “home union” was heading for its third walkout.

On day one of the strike, Pechthalt was back at Manual – located about 10 blocks south of the University of Southern California – with a picket sign in his hand and mixed feelings.

Even in the pouring rain, strikers were in a proud, confident, jubilant mood. Pechthalt recognized Lupe Bermudez and other former students who had become teachers and taken active roles in UTLA. Bermudez, the current UTLA chapter chair at Manual Arts, was in elementary school during the ‘89 strike.

“You feel a sense of pride that these kids have stepped up and taken leadership,” he said. “It's a decidedly younger crowd, with more young people of color. It’s an incredibly healthy development in Los Angeles.”

But Pechthalt was also sorry to find old colleagues gone. The district classified the school as “low performing” and made wholesale changes several years ago. “One of these groups that ‘implements reform’ came in and, basically, chased everyone out,” he explained. “Good teacher or bad, it didn’t matter.”

You feel a sense of pride that these kids have stepped up and taken leadership. It's a decidedly younger crowd, with more young people of color. It’s an incredibly healthy development in Los Angeles.

Manual Arts strikers anchor Central Area “gauntlet”

On day three, Manual strikers canvassed the community and found that almost everybody had heard about UTLA’s demand for smaller classes. “We were happy and excited that our parents and neighbors were so interested and engaged,” said Bermudez.

Later that day the Manual strikers formed a “gauntlet” with pickets from other Central Area schools that stretched a mile-and-a-half down Vermont Avenue. Passing drivers saluted the thousands of teachers by honking car and truck horns in solidarity.

“Our message was clearest whenever we were most visible,” Bermudez said.
Manual strikers picketed every afternoon in front of campus. Students in the school’s marching band set up to one side of the line and played the school anthem, “It’s So Hard to Be a Toiler,” and other songs.

“I’m tired and wet,” said picket captain Jacqueline Adamescu, “but I feel great.”

Adamescu teaches freshman English, chairs the English department and teaches yoga as an elective. This is her fifth year with “her own classroom” and her third year at Manual, but the Ohio native said she lives “paycheck to paycheck.”

About 80 percent of her students are Latinos, she said, with many recent arrivals from El Salvador and Guatemala. There aren’t enough special education staffers for co-teaching with general education teachers, or enough psychiatric social workers in a neighborhood where children are commonly exposed to shootings and violence.

“This movement is for young people and the community schools they deserve,” Adamescu said.

A strike restores people’s faith in themselves. And this is a strike they are going to talk about the rest of their lives. They accomplished so much more than anyone would have thought just a few months ago.

On day four, Pechthalt penned a guest column – “Why I joined the picket line at Manual Arts High in L.A.” – and described for non-teachers what it’s like to work at an underfunded urban public school.

“Every year I taught at Manual Arts would begin the same. Like thousands of other teachers, I would stop at an office supplies store to buy pens, pencils, folders and other basics my students didn’t have and the school didn’t provide,” he wrote in the political news site CALmatters.

“I would also get cleaning supplies. Not because the custodians didn’t do a good job. They did. But cutbacks limited their number at my school and the time they could spend in my classroom.”

Pechthalt said he believes the teachers’ firm commitment and decisive action, coupled with overwhelming parent and public support, could change education policy in California for decades.

“A strike restores people’s faith in themselves,” he said. “And this is a strike they are going to talk about the rest of their lives. They accomplished so much more than anyone would have thought just a few months ago.”

Every year I taught at Manual Arts would begin the same. Like thousands of other teachers, I would stop at an office supplies store to buy pens, pencils, folders and other basics my students didn’t have and the school didn’t provide.

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Pechthalt is looking forward to November 2020

After leading CFT for eight years, Pechthalt plans to step down this spring after the annual Convention. His most notable electoral campaigns include Proposition 30 – the “Millionaires Tax” – in 2012 and Proposition 55 to extend that tax in 2016. He also rallied AFT locals across the state to step up worksite organizing drives ahead of the Supreme Court’s long-expected Janus decision.

“After 35 years of being active, I’m going to take a break, think about what it all means, and maybe try my hand at writing.”

The UTLA strike isn’t Pechthalt’s last hurrah. He has helped lay the groundwork for a massive campaign to pay for the local community schools, smaller class sizes, enriched curriculum, and other real reforms UTLA won as a result of the strike.

Schools and Community First, a CFT-backed initiative on the November 2020 ballot, will restore an estimated $11 billion per year to state social services – including $5 billion for public education – by closing a Proposition 13 loophole that allows commercial and industrial property owners to dodge tax increases.

“The state must act,” Pechthalt says. “California is the fifth largest economy in the world, but we are a dismal 43rd in the nation in per pupil spending. And without dramatic action in Sacramento, teachers and school workers will likely be out on the picket line very soon in school districts throughout the state.”

— By Steve Weingarten, CFT Reporter


Six Days That Shook Los Angeles

Part 1: Teachers and communities lay it on the line
Part 2: Charter schools cost Los Angeles Unified nearly $600 million per year
Part 3: UTLA retirees provide young strikers a link to the 1970 and 1989 walkouts
Part 4: For CFT President Josh Pechthalt, the UTLA strike is personal
Part 5: A new generation of parents shows its commitment to local schools
Part 6: Teachers never walk alone when they have union brothers and sisters

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UTLA retirees link “Class of 2019” to 1989 and 1970 walkouts

SIX DAYS THAT SHOOK LOS ANGELES – PART 3


During the strike, hundreds of retired L.A. teachers returned to their former schools to continue the fight for public education. One veteran of the two previous strikes said back then UTLA was up against an intransigent district, but didn’t have to face billionaires and unrestrained charter school growth.

UTLA-Retired is now mobilizing all its 4,300 members for the special election in March to fill a key seat on the LAUSD school board and tilt the balance away from a pro-charter majority.

John Perez cut his union teeth when he was 23 years old. It was 1970 and Perez was a probationary teacher at Roosevelt High when a fledgling United Teachers Los Angeles shut down L.A. Unified schools for 23 days.

“I was in my first year at my first job, but I knew what the issues were and what UTLA needed to do, so I did it. I walked out. It wasn’t even a question,” he said.

Perez continued teaching at Roosevelt and rising through UTLA ranks. Members elected him president in 2003 and he currently heads UTLA-Retired as well as CFT’s Council of Retired Members. He and 15 other UTLA-R members walked the line at the iconic East L.A campus on day one.

“Today’s teachers also know what the issues are and what UTLA needed to do, and they did it very well,” he said. “The union movement is in good hands.”

Peter Cuevas was one of Perez’s students during the 1989 strike. He and his nine siblings are all Roosevelt Rough Riders, as was their father in the 1950s.

“There was no doubt that I was going to strike,” said Cuevas, a special education teacher at Roosevelt since 1995. “We love our community, and seeing so many retired teachers come back to picket tells me they care about it as much as we do.”

Perez estimates that more than 500 retired UTLA members took part in the strike. “I saw seniors of every age and physical ability, from agile new retirees bouncing around picket lines to older folks with walkers at the rallies.”

I was in my first year at my first job, but I knew what the issues were and what UTLA needed to do, so I did it. I walked out. It wasn’t even a question.

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“I am what I am today thanks to UTLA”

UTLA-R Secretary Susie Chow “adopted” Robert Hill Lane Elementary during the strike because it’s close to her home. Chow speaks in the first person when it comes to the union’s history.

“I am what I am today thanks to UTLA,” she said. “I remember my high school social studies teacher going on strike in 1970, and then I became a teacher. I was a newbie during the 1989 strike. I even took my three-year-old on the picket line.”

Picket captain Loribeth Mau said Chow was always the first person to arrive at the line. “I would get there at 7 a.m., and Susie would already be walking up and down with her picket sign.”

Chow didn’t teach at Robert Hill Lane, but knew Mau before the walkout. She guided Mau through the tough National Board Certification process when she directed the UTLA-led support program.

“It was such an honor to walk with someone who fought for public education all her career,” Mau said, “and is still fighting for justice, even in retirement.”

I remember my high school social studies teacher going on strike in 1970, and then I became a teacher. I was a newbie during the 1989 strike.

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Fighting for the common good for nearly 50 years

UTLA was fighting for its life in 1970, when only 60 percent of LAUSD teachers walked off the job, but from the beginning the union demanded changes aimed at improving education for the neediest children and giving parents a voice.

“Back then, LAUSD students were 70 percent white and 70 percent middle class,” Perez said, “but we proposed an ‘Inner City Package’ aimed at communities in East and South L.A. and the San Fernando Valley. The demands were very similar to today – more teachers, smaller class sizes, more individual attention.”

The main issue during UTLA’s 9-day strike in 1989 was higher salaries to retain teachers. “Our main non-economic demand was for school-based management to give our members and our students’ parents a say in our schools.”

There are similarities between all three struggles, Perez said, but this strike was more significant because of the context.

“In ‘70 and ‘89, we were only up against intransigent district officials. Eli Broad and charter schools weren’t a factor. Now the privatizers are out in full force to transform public education into a system of private schools with public money.”

Perez gave the Class of 2019 an “A” for mobilizing parents much more effectively than during earlier strikes. Most parents kept their children at home, costing the district tens of millions of dollars daily in lost per-pupil funding from Sacramento.

Back then, LAUSD students were 70 percent white and 70 percent middle class, but we proposed an ‘Inner City Package’ aimed at communities in East and South L.A. and the San Fernando Valley.

UTLA-Retired is a rising political force

UTLA-R now has 4,342 members and as many as 150 retirees attend general assemblies five times per year. Serving with President Perez and Secretary Chow are Vice President Cecilia Boskin and Treasurer Mike Dreebin.

4 BRJ 7937 3“UTLA teachers learned from our own experience that collective action is the way to protect yourself,” Perez said, “and that doesn’t stop being true when you retire. That’s why we have more than 4,300 members.”

UTLA-R is preparing to mail all members an appeal to join PACE, the union’s Political Action Council of Educators. The ominous headline, “Your Benefits Are at Risk,” refers to changes in retiree health coverage that LAUSD proposed – and UTLA rejected – in the just-concluded negotiations.

The mailing is part of the mobilization for a March 5 special election to replace an LAUSD school board member who pled guilty to felony violations of finance laws and was forced to step down. The board is now split 3-3 between charter advocates and critics. UTLA has endorsed Jackie Goldberg, a longtime progressive, former teacher and assemblymember, who began her career on the school board.4 5 BRJ 4946

“Other districts are going down this road, so you can bet those proposed take-backs will return,” Perez said. “The best way for retirees to defend their benefits is electing Jackie.”

Josh Pechthalt – who is set to retire as CFT president this spring – has his eyes on a later prize. Pechthalt is counting on a “Silver Wave” of retirees to help pass the Schools and Communities First initiative on the November 2020 ballot. The CFT-supported act would generate an estimated $11 billion per year for public education and other services by plugging a loophole in Proposition 13 that has allowed commercial and industrial property owners to avoid tax increases.

“UTLA has the largest retiree chapter, but there are active groups of all sizes up and down the state,” Pechthalt said, referring to the 17 AFT-chartered retiree chapters in California. “These are members who know what to do in a campaign. They don’t need much explaining. They get right down to doing.”

UTLA teachers learned from our own experience that collective action is the way to protect yourself.

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A torch has been passed to a new generation of UTLA activists. For Loribeth Mau, the memory remains bright of Robert Hill Lane strikers linking arms with strikers from other Eastside schools to “form a line for blocks and blocks down Cesar Chavez Avenue to show solidarity.” 

“It feels fantastic to go back to teaching and being with my children, but I keep thinking of how we can help the Oakland teachers,” Mau said. “I’m becoming an activist with a cause.”

Now multiply Mau’s energy by 33,000 strikers.

By Steve Weingarten, CFT Reporter

 

Six Days That Shook Los Angeles

Part 1: Teachers and communities lay it on the line
Part 2: Charter schools cost Los Angeles Unified nearly $600 million per year
Part 3: UTLA retirees provide young strikers a link to the 1970 and 1989 walkouts
Part 4: For CFT President Josh Pechthalt, the UTLA strike is personal
Part 5: A new generation of parents shows its commitment to local schools
Part 6: Teachers never walk alone when they have union brothers and sisters

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Charter schools cost Los Angeles Unified nearly $600 million per year, board votes for moratorium

SIX DAYS THAT SHOOK LOS ANGELES – PART 2


Eight days after the six-day strike had ramped up public pressure, the Los Angeles Unified school board passed a groundbreaking resolution calling for a moratorium on new charters in the district until Sacramento completes a study of how their unchecked expansion has affected traditional schools. The district also made a significant investment in local community schools.

On day two of the UTLA strike, members teaching at a South L.A. charter also walked out, and stayed out until victory two weeks later. 

During nearly two years of contract talks, United Teachers Los Angeles and Los Angeles Unified made little progress, and none of the complex issues on the bargaining table reflected clashing philosophies more than charter schools.

In 2000, there were 10 independent charters in the district. Today there are 277, representing the highest concentration of any urban district in the country. One of every five LAUSD students now attends a charter school.

UTLA points to the dizzying growth of charters and underfunding of traditional schools as a double-edged attack on public education. Two of the union’s main proposals were capping the “privatizers” who are seeking more charter schools and instead promoting a “community school” model with greater parent engagement, broadened curriculum, and wrap-around social services.

But Superintendent Austin Beutner, who made his mark on Wall Street, has no education experience. His closest supporters see LAUSD as a failed social institution that should be replaced by charters. 

Last November, the Los Angeles Times reported on Beutner’s plan to “re-imagine” LAUSD and carve the 700-square-mile district into 32 school networks, referred to as “portfolios.” Under this Wall Street investment model, struggling schools could be considered “under-performing assets” and closed or converted into charters.

In the weeks leading up to the strike, UTLA began to significantly change the public’s opinion of charters with two numbers. 

The first – $591 million – is how much charter schools drained in one year from the district budget, according to a comprehensive fiscal analysis commissioned by UTLA. And the loss was growing.

The second – $1.9 billion – is how large a budget surplus Beutner had to invest in Los Angeles Unified. If he wanted to, of course. Buetner claimed the district faced financial disaster.

Public opinion was clear as soon as teachers struck for “the schools our kids deserve.” Every newscast during the strike offered up reasons to support L.A. teachers, wiping away decades of negative reporting on public education.

2.BRJ 4755Board resolution to Sacramento

Union and district negotiators addressed several non-traditional areas of bargaining, and called on Sacramento to address flashpoints beyond their control.

Both sides agreed that California – currently ranked 43rd of 50 states in per pupil funding – must spend more on education. Gov. Gavin Newsom promised to draw on a surplus left by Jerry Brown for short-term help. Voters could provide long-term funding in November 2020 by passing the Schools and Community First ballot measure, which would close Proposition 13’s tax loophole for commercial property.

UTLA and LAUSD also agreed to seek Sacramento’s help on charters, which are regulated by state law and cannot be negotiated in a labor contract. On Tuesday, January 29, the LAUSD School Board voted unanimously to approve the contract, and 5-1 to ask Newsom and state officials for an 8- to 10-month moratorium on new charters while the state studies their effect on traditional public education.

“This is a win for justice, transparency, and common sense,” UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl told the board. “We need to invest in our existing schools, not follow a business model of unregulated growth when new charter schools are fundamentally not needed in L.A.”

The UTLA union contract does tackle one common point of friction between charters and traditional schools. At campuses where “co-located” charters share space with traditional schools, UTLA will now appoint a “co-location coordinator” to provide feedback.

We need to invest in our existing schools, not follow a business model of unregulated growth when new charter schools are fundamentally not needed in LA.

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Los Angeles special election sure to tilt school board

Charters are sure to figure prominently in a March 5 special election to replace an LAUSD school board member who was forced to step down. Charter operator Ref Rodriguez pled guilty last year to a felony election finance charge, but wouldn’t resign until the pro-charter 4-3 majority could hire Beutner as superintendent. The board is now split 3-3 between charter advocates and critics.

To replace Rodriguez, UTLA has endorsed Jackie Goldberg, a longtime progressive, former teacher and assemblymember, who began her political career on the school board. With a crowded field of 10 candidates, a May run-off is likely.

California voters show signs of having soured on charters. In November, Tony Thurmond, a strong defender of public education, narrowly defeated charter proponent Marshall Tuck in his second bid for state superintendent of public instruction.

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A major investment in local Community Schools

Los Angeles Unified agreed years ago to create a working group to implement local community schools, but went no further with the idea. 

“The working group hasn’t even met in six months,” said team member Julie Van Winkle, the union’s North Area regional director.

That’s about to change. Under the new contract agreement, LAUSD will designate 20 community schools by July, and 10 more schools by July 2020. The district will invest $350,000 in each school over two years. Leadership councils will have full discretion over all budgetary items outside of the site council.

Existing local community schools provide rich academic programs that include the arts and STEM classes, as well as medical care and other social services for students and their families. 

“But it’s bigger than that,” said Rebecca Solomon. “Community schools give parents a voice in how their school is run.”

Solomon teaches social studies at the UCLA Community School, one of a half dozen campuses where the Ambassador Hotel, a relic of Old Hollywood, once stood in what is now Koreatown. These are, in UTLA’s words, “the schools our kids deserve.”

 “This is the positive vision for public education we came up with,” said Solomon, who is also the union chapter chair at the school. “We are committed to funding it, and we know it can be done.”

But it's bigger than that. Community schools give parents a voice in how their school is run.

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UTLA moves to organize charter teachers

Putting a price tag on how much charters drain yearly from Los Angeles Unified stirred a post-strike opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times titled, “I'm a charter school teacher. The LAUSD strike made me realize how I'm part of the problem.”

“I love my school, my colleagues and my students fiercely, and I’m proud of what we’ve built,” wrote Riley McDonald Vaca of Camino Nuevo High School.

“The strike has made me consider how charter school expansion is harming the city,” continued McDonald Vaca, the mother of an LAUSD child. “As more money is invested in new ideas and new campuses, fewer resources and students are left for the many great programs still trying to gain their footing in our current district and charter schools.”

UTLA began to organize charter educators about 10 years ago and have made steady progress. Last year, teachers at three of the 25 schools in the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools signed their first contract.

The strike has made me consider how charter school expansion is harming the city.

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Accelerated Charter Schools launch their own strike

On day two of the UTLA strike, about 80 members at The Accelerated Schools (TAS) in South Los Angeles launched their own strike after more than a year of fruitless contract talks. They staged the first walkout at a California charter and only the second strike by charter teachers in the nation.

Two days later, CEO Johnathan Williams called police when parents and students tried to deliver a petition calling on him and TAS trustees to negotiate a fair contract for teachers. The number of strikers and supporters on the picketlines ballooned in response.

People are scared because anyone can be fired.

Amanda Martinez helped organize TAS teachers in 2008. “Things were so bad that it only took eight days to gather all the signatures we needed.”

Martinez was chapter chair for the first eight years and helped negotiate the first three contracts. The big issues for TAS teachers, she said, are binding arbitration, job security and affordable health benefits.

The turnover rate at TAS is explosive. Teacher Nicholle Hamilton said 40 percent of high school teachers left after their principal was changed with no explanation. “People are scared because anyone can be fired.”

Five of Maria Zamora’s six children have graduated from TAS, and her youngest child is a senior. “As a parent and as a volunteer here, I know they received a good education,” she said.

Zamora worked on parent committees for years, but said many parents feel uncomfortable interacting with administrators. “There is no transparency. The director sends ‘robo-calls’ to parents. They don’t encourage parents to get involved because they want to keep tight control.”

After two weeks of picketing, UTLA and TAS negotiators reached a tentative agreement on Sunday, January 27, that strikers approved the next day by a 77-1 margin. Newly negotiated provisions include:

  • Three months severance, including salary and benefits, for any teacher who isn’t offered an employment contract from one year to the next.
  • A $10,000 signing bonus for teachers who return to their positions at the beginning of each school year.
  • Annual increases in the employer’s share of healthcare costs.
  • An improved arbitration process that requires a unanimous vote of the TAS Board of Trustees to reverse an arbitrator’s decision.

By Steve Weingarten, CFT Reporter

 

Six Days That Shook Los Angeles

Part 1: Teachers and communities lay it on the line
Part 2: Charter schools cost Los Angeles Unified nearly $600 million per year
Part 3: UTLA retirees provide young strikers a link to the 1970 and 1989 walkouts
Part 4: For CFT President Josh Pechthalt, the UTLA strike is personal
Part 5: A new generation of parents shows its commitment to local schools
Part 6: Teachers never walk alone when they have union brothers and sisters

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Teachers and communities lay it on the line

SIX DAYS THAT SHOOK LOS ANGELES - PART 1


With a massive outpouring of community support, a new generation of teachers shut down the country’s second-largest school district in a fight for the future of public education. UTLA members launched their first strike in 30 years to deliver “the schools our kids deserve.”

A week later they were well on their way.

This was the third major strike for United Teachers Los Angeles, and UTLA’s 33,000 members hit a grand-slam homerun for a half million Los Angeles Unified students. In the process, they made teachers into heroes again and mobilized the public to save public education.

“This was the best lesson you ever taught in your lives,” UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl told a roaring crowd in Grand Park the day after Martin Luther King Day, as he announced a tentative agreement with Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner after six days of striking.

Teachers would not return to work, Caputo-Pearl added, until strikers had a chance to read and approve the tentative agreement. Members held meetings on campus and voted that afternoon. Chapter chairs sent the results digitally to UTLA. With 73 percent of members casting ballots the tally was 20,024 in favor – 81 percent – and 4,696 against.

In December, an estimated 50,000 teachers, parents, students and supporters marched from Grand Park to the nearby Broad Museum, a shiny bauble built by local billionaire and charter school proponent Eli Broad. They called on Superintendent Beutner to:

  • fully fund Los Angeles schools
  • reduce class sizes, which often spike above 40 students
  • hire more nurses, psychologists, counselors and librarians
  • offer teachers a fair pay raise
  • invest in community schools and stop the onslaught of charter schools
  • reduce student testing and create a better learning environment

The successful strike brought historic progress in all those areas. The biggest problem at the bargaining table, however, was different world views. Or as the head of the UTLA negotiating team, Arlene Inouye, put it after nearly two years at the bargaining table, but before the breakthrough, “We haven’t had an honest partner.”

Beutner was a Wall Street wizard, but he has no education experience and many of his closest supporters see LAUSD as a failed social institution that should be replaced by charter schools.

LAUSD, on the other hand, like other California public schools, has been on the receiving end of decades of erosion in education funding as California, the fifth largest economy in the world, has fallen to 43rd of 50 states in per pupil spending. The unchecked growth of charter schools has only worsened other problems.

Caputo-Pearl later announced that UTLA members would stop teaching on January 10 unless negotiators could reach a fair agreement. Beutner responded much as he has during nearly two years of bargaining by claiming the district was about to go broke and trying to block the strike in court.

To avoid a legal challenge, UTLA delayed the deadline four days. When Monday, January 14 dawned, the response was phenomenal in spite of a massive winter rainstorm pummeling Los Angeles and the strikers.

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Clusters of wet educators in red t-shirts with picket signs were seemingly everywhere, chanting “We are the teachers, the mighty, mighty teachers, fighting for justice…and for education.” For hours, they elicited passing drivers to honk their horns. 

The new face for public education, Roosevelt High’s Roxana Dueñas, appeared on UTLA-sponsored billboards, advertisements and posters, and media outlets that had trashed Los Angeles Unified for years suddenly became the most ardent defenders of teachers. 

Poster

Union supporters from fellow AFT local unions and firefighters to blue collar workers and movie stars pumped up picketlines and rallies. The labor movement was eager to take the offensive after years of attacks, including the Supreme Court’s recent Janus decision.

It was, indeed, the best lesson that Los Angeles Unified teachers have ever taught. The contract fight, however, was the first of three game-changing challenges.

Next up is a special election in March to replace a pro-charter school board member who was forced to step down. In a crowded field of 10 candidates, UTLA has endorsed Jackie Goldberg, long-time progressive, former teacher and state assemblymember, who began her political career on the school board. A May run-off is likely.

The third battle – passing the Schools and Communities First Act on the November 2020 ballot – will have even broader consequences. The CFT-backed proposition will restore more than $11 billion per year to the state’s schools and community colleges and other public services by closing a Proposition 13 loophole that allowed commercial property owners to dodge tax increases.

Last year, teachers struck for fully funded schools in Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky, West Virginia and Colorado, but activists like Inouye, also secretary of United Teacher Los Angeles, say UTLA’s militant stance stems more from close ties with the Chicago Teachers Union.

“Chicago changed the face of the union from being service-driven to being a powerful advocate for students and parent-community relations – the CTU strike in 2012 showed we can win,” said Inouye.

That was the year UTLA put forth a strong community-based vision of public education with the campaign “The Schools Our Kids Deserve.” Four years later, then-Treasurer Inouye led an internal union campaign called “Build the Future, Fund the Fight” that included raising union dues. An 82 percent majority of members cast “Yes” ballots in what she called “the most important vote in UTLA history.” 

“The members believed in us,” Inouye said. “If we hadn’t passed that initiative, we couldn’t fight today for the schools our children deserve.”

UTLA has used that revenue to expand research operations, strengthen communications and organize a parent outreach program.

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UTLA strikers weren’t alone on the picketlines 

ON DAY ONE, nearly 400 members of SEIU Local 99 also walked out in solidarity at 10 Los Angeles schools. SEIU represents about 30,000 classified employees, including instructional aides, bus drivers, custodians and cafeteria workers.

Executive Director Max Arias said Local 99 “fully supports teachers in their demands for smaller class sizes, increased staffing, and greater investment in our children. The decision to strike is a difficult one, but ultimately it is a necessary step to make sure that frontline workers are heard.” 

At the UCLA Community School in Koreatown, Frank Alas-Alegría and Yvette Monzón gathered strike pledges from 87 of the 91classified staff, including the cash-strapped spouse of a furloughed federal employee. About 70 percent of Local 99 members attended district schools, and nearly half are parents or guardians of school-aged children.

For her part, Monzón thanked LAUSD unions for their solidarity when Beutner dug in his heels during Local 99 contract negotiations last spring. “UTLA and the Teamsters said they wouldn’t cross our picket lines if we struck, and that forced administrators back to the bargaining table.”

Hundreds of additional Local 99 members launched solidarity strikes at 10 other schools on day five.

Social studies teacher Rebecca Solomon, the UTLA chapter chair at the Community School, said the classified staff “took a chance by going on strike, but joined without hesitation. They know that giving our students a good future is a shared fight.”

The classified staff took a chance by going on strike, but joined without hesitation. They know that giving our students a good future is a shared fight.

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Confronting the charter school challenge

ON DAY TWO, tens of thousands of UTLA strikers converged outside the California Charter Schools Association office in Little Tokyo.

In 2005, there were 58 independent charter schools in the district. Today, there are 221, representing the highest concentration of charter schools of any district in the nation. One of every five LAUSD students now attends a charter school.

A 2016 fiscal analysis commissioned by UTLA found the district loses $591 million per year to charter schools. With “co-located” charters often sharing space with traditional district schools, the study revealed that LAUSD failed to collect millions of dollars from co-located charters for space they were given but didn’t use.

As money leaves the district, costs remain and even grow, including charter school oversight, infrastructure, and educating the highest-need students left behind by many charters.

“This is a fundamentally unsustainable path that threatens the very existence of the civic institution of public education,” the report concluded.

Earlier that day, about 80 UTLA members at three Accelerated Charter Schools in South Los Angeles launched their own strike after more than a year of fruitless contract talks. This is the first walkout at a California charter and only the second strike by charter teachers in the nation.

UTLA has organized three of the 25 schools in the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools charter, where teachers signed their first contract in April.

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Public opinion quickly becomes clear

ON DAY THREE, the Los Angeles Times front-page headline trumpeted “Teachers Bask in Public Support for Strike,” and a Loyola Marymount University poll showed that more than 82 percent of parents supported the teachers.

Count Jason McLaughlin as a supporter. McLaughlin stood alongside the Manual Arts High picketline, waving hello to strikers. The baseball scout grew up in the neighborhood and worked briefly at Manual Arts for a private company. His wife works for LAUSD and he stays in contact with many former co-workers.

“There’s nothing like a teacher,” McLaughlin said. “No computer can bring out the best in a child like they can. Why wouldn’t we want our children’s schools fully funded and their teachers paid fairly? We’re talking about our future.”

How popular are the teachers? At Robert Hill Lane Elementary in East Los Angeles, even sheriff’s deputies in patrol cars honk in solidarity when picket captain Loribeth Mau leads strikers in a spirited line-dance along Cesar Chavez Avenue.

Nineteen of the 20 teachers at Robert Hill Lane struck, but nearly twice as many people are picketing that morning. Supporters include spouses, children, neighbors and classified staff from East L.A. College across the street.

Morning rituals include giving the stink-eye to the lone scab as she crosses the line. On a sweeter note, toddlers wave to teachers from the school’s front door.

There’s nothing like a teacher. No computer can bring out the best in a child like they can. Why wouldn’t we want our children’s schools fully funded and their teachers paid fairly? We’re talking about our future.

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Exhausted, wet and hopeful strikers

ON DAY FOUR, math teacher Julie Van Winkle and dozens of other strikers at the Sonia Sotomayor Learning Center in Glassell Park shout at cars trying to inch past them in a hard, driving rain.

“Between tinted windows and the rain, we can’t tell if the drivers are parents dropping children off, classified staff going to work, or scabs, so we yell at them all,” Van Winkle said, adding, “Respectfully, of course.”

Yaneth Flores teaches Spanish at Sotomayor. Flores kept her two children – a kindergartner and an eleventh grader – out of school this week.

“I’m exhausted but hopeful,” she said. “Every morning as I drive to the picketline, I think about how the changes we want will improve our schools.”

The salary increases the union seeks aren’t foremost on Flores’ mind. “Of course, I can use a raise, but 6 percent isn’t going to change my life. Smaller class sizes and more counselors will make my life – and all the kids’ lives – better.”

Van Winkle is a UTLA North Area Director and member of the union negotiating team. “We want to fundamentally change how this district spends money.”

Every year since she began teaching in 2004, Van Winkle said, the district has claimed that a financial crisis forced it to exceed caps on class sizes. “No other school district has an ‘escape clause’ like that in their contracts,” she said.

Of course, I can use a raise, but 6 percent isn’t going to change my life. Smaller class sizes and more counselors will make my life – and all the kids’ lives – better.

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A break in the storm

ON DAY FIVE, UTLA and LAUSD negotiators returned to the table at noon and didn’t break until midnight. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti hosted the talks at City Hall and dropped in periodically. The state’s new governor, Gavin Newsom, and new State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond, were on call.

Tens of thousands of UTLA strikers, meanwhile, encamped across the street in Grand Park. Days of rain and rallies had turned the lawn to mud, giving musical performances by Tom Morello and Aloe Blacc and the many rousing political speeches a vibe somewhere between Woodstock and the Occupy movement.

Negotiators agreed to not speak publicly about the talks, but district leaders were striking a more conciliatory tone by early afternoon. School Board President Monica Garcia emailed thanks to all stakeholders, including striking teachers, nurses, counselors and librarians for helping “open so many people’s eyes to the underfunding of our public schools.”

— By Steve Weingarten, CFT Reporter

Six Days That Shook Los Angeles

Part 1: Teachers and communities lay it on the line
Part 2: Charter schools cost Los Angeles Unified nearly $600 million per year
Part 3: UTLA retirees provide young strikers a link to the 1970 and 1989 walkouts
Part 4: For CFT President Josh Pechthalt, the UTLA strike is personal
Part 5: A new generation of parents shows its commitment to local schools
Part 6: Teachers never walk alone when they have union brothers and sisters