L.A. teachers union call in national leader to rally members
By Thomas Himes, Los Angeles Daily News
United Teachers Los Angeles has called in the president of its national affiliate to help rally members behind contract demands that could lead to the first strike in 25 years.
Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.3-million member American Federation of Teachers, will meet with UTLA leadership on Wednesday, then hold a news conference Thursday morning outside one of LAUSD's occupational centers in Bell.
Weingarten's trip from Washington, D.C., comes a week after Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines called UTLA's demands for an immediate 8.5 percent salary hike, plus 4.2 percent in other incentives and 5,000 additional positions, "entirely unrealistic," according to a Jan. 26 letter Cortines sent to all district employees.
"UTLA's leadership's persistent demands, coupled with its strike plans, therefore raise serious ethical and equity issues that must immediately be considered and addressed by all concerned parties, which is why I am writing to you at this time," according to Cortines' letter, which notes that meeting UTLA's demands would require laying off other district employees.
Union demands would cost LAUSD $833 million more than it is offering to spend over the current fiscal year and 2015-16, which starts July 1, according to Cortines' letter. Earlier this month, LAUSD upped its proposal to an immediate 4 percent salary hike and potential for educators who attend professional development to earn an additional 2 percent annually.
The majority of the UTLA's demand would fund more teachers and smaller class sizes, according to Cortines' letter. The district has already started decreasing class sizes, sending out letters Tuesday showing the number of academic classes with more than 45 students in middle schools and high schools has been cut to 214, marking a significant improvement over the fall semester when more than 400 classes in the San Fernando Valley alone fell into that category.
But UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl has said he wants class size reductions negotiated through a contract to ensure district officials can't increase them again.
The teachers union has placed $3 million into a so-called "strike fund" and plans to hold a massive rally at Pershing Square Feb. 26.
Union leadership decided to hold the protest just ahead of the March 3 primary elections that could decide three school board seats. Among the seats up for grabs is District 5. Held by the union's strongest ally on the school board, Bennett Kayser, campaigning for the seat turned ugly in recent weeks. A campaign mailer funded by an arm of the California Charter Schools Association accused Kayser last week of supporting policies that negatively affect Latinos. Weingarten is set to speak in support of Kayser's early education initiatives Thursday at 7:30 a.m. in front of a school in his district, Slawson Southeast Occupational Center, 5500 Rickenbacker Road, Bell, according to UTLA.