The head of the Los Angeles teachers’ union voiced optimism on Wednesday about jump-starting stalled labor talks, as a teachers strike in the second-largest U.S. public school system stretched into its third day.
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No negotiations have been scheduled since contract talks with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) collapsed last Friday when union leaders rejected management’s latest offer as an “insult.” More than 30,000 educators represented by United Teachers Los Angeles walked off the job on Monday, demanding higher pay, smaller classes and more support staff.
But union President Alex-Caputo Pearl told a morning news conference he aimed to “get back to the table very soon.”
“We are working with Mayor Eric Garcetti to restart negotiations, and things are developing in a good way,” the union added in a message posted on its website. The mayor’s office confirmed that Garcetti, who has expressed support for the teachers’ cause, was speaking with both parties individually seeking to nudge them back to the bargaining table.
California Governor Gavin Newsom has also been urging a resumption of negotiations. But neither he nor the mayor — both Democrats — exercise any authority over the school district.
LAUSD spokeswoman Shannon Haber declined to comment on prospects for renewed talks. Superintendent Austin Beutner has accused union officials of stonewalling further bargaining attempts, an assertion that Caputo-Pearl denied.
Huddled under an umbrella in a steady downpour, Diana Castillo, a teacher at Harbor City Elementary School, said she disbelieved assertions by Beutner, a former publisher and investment banker, that the district could not afford to meet the union’s demands.
“He makes US$350,000 a year, has a district car and a driver. The money’s there,” she said.
At another rally across town, teacher Elizabeth DiMartino said classroom conditions at her school in the San Fernando Valley had been decrepit for so long that “people think this bare minimum is normal in Los Angeles.”
“The classrooms are falling apart. They look sad. We spend so much of our own money just to make the classrooms look presentable,” DiMartino said, also citing a lack of on-site nurses and specialized instructors for art, music and physical education.
The Los Angeles walkout follows a wave of teachers strikes last year across the United States over pay and school funding, including work stoppages in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona.
Those represented battles between teachers’ unions and Republican-dominated state governments focused on cutting costs, while the Los Angeles strike is unfolding in a Democratic-controlled state.
Denver teachers could vote to strike by Saturday if no deal on a new contract is reached by then.
Beutner said the district had proposed staff increases that would cost US$130 million a year - more than county officials have said is available - while the union’s demands would cost $800 million. Beutner offered on Tuesday to accompany teachers in lobbying state lawmakers to increase education funding.
The union wants a 6.5 percent pay raise. LAUSD teacher pay currently averages US$75,000, according to state figures. The district has offered a 6 percent hike with back pay.