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LAUSD Teachers To Strike In January If No Deal Reached

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The stakes were raised Wednesday as the union which represents teachers for the Los Angeles Unified School District announced its 33,000 teachers will walk off the job on Jan. 10 if no deal is reached before then.

Following 19 months of unsuccessful negotiations, the United Teachers Los Angeles announced the move in a news conference at its downtown L.A. headquarters, while joined by teachers, students and community members. UTLA's members have already voted to authorize a strike if a contract agreement can't be reached.

A union strike would be the first by LAUSD teachers since 1989.

LAUSD Teachers To Strike In January If No Deal Reached
United Teachers Los Angeles, the union which represents teachers for the L.A. Unified School District, holds a news conference on Dec. 19, 2018. (CBS2)

The move comes after a fact-finding report from a neutral state-appointed party Tuesday that recommended adoption of a 6 percent salary increase, with 3 percent retroactive to July 1, 2017, and the other 3 percent retroactive to July 1, 2018. The fact finding report was ordered following failed state mediation in the contract dispute.

The union was required to wait for the fact-finding report to be released before it called for a strike. Following the report, LAUSD issued a statement which claimed that UTLA had agreed to a 6 percent salary increase. UTLA responded by stating that no such agreement had been reached.

"He continues to try to bargain through the media," UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said Thursday of LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner. "He claims offers were made that were never made. He even said we agreed on a salary that we didn't. We're filing a new unfair practice charge on that lie this afternoon."

"For nearly two years, UTLA is the only party who have presented proposals to benefit students and to improve working and learning conditions, while the district is intent on selling out LAUSD parents, students and community, as they mainly offered more salary -- and that's a 3 percent increase, plus an additional 3 with strings attached -- in an attempt to placate us," UTLA bargaining chair Arlene Inouye said. "And to be clear, again, there's no agreement, and there have been no new proposals, only distortions and attempts to sway public opinion."

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, the California Public Employment Relations Board issued a complaint against UTLA alleging it was refusing to bargain in good faith.

Last week, Caputo-Pearl told CBS2 this negotiation is unlike ones in previous years where layoffs were a major concern. Now, negotiations also hinge on the debate between public schools and privatizing schools through charters.

"This isn't about not having money," Caputo-Pearl said. "This is about choices."

"The big issues in this contract struggle are reducing class size, getting more nurses, counselors, psychologists, librarians to our schools, making sure privatization isn't sapping money from neighborhood public schools," Caputo-Pearl added. "Those are the key issues. Of course, a fair salary. That's really what's motivating this."

According to LAUSD, the union had twice communicated acceptance of the 6 percent salary offer included in the fact-finding report -- once by a union representative on the fact-finding panel and again through a UTLA Facebook post saying that a massive union march in downtown Los Angeles Saturday was held to demand, in part, "a 6 percent pay raise."

"Los Angeles Unified remains committed to bargaining with UTLA and believes the fact finder report can provide the basis for reasonable settlement of the remaining items and hopes UTLA will engage in good-faith bargaining to find an agreement," according to the district. "Los Angeles Unified does not want a strike -- which only UTLA can authorize -- as a strike would harm students, families and communities most in need."

UTLA officials have stressed in the past that salary was only one part of the contract dispute. The union has been pushing for a 6.5 percent pay increase retroactive to July 1, 2016. But the union is also demanding contract language limiting class sizes; more hiring of nurses, counselors and librarians; reductions in standardized testing; and accountability measures for charter schools.

District officials previously said the union's contract proposal would increase the district's $500 million deficit during the current school year by another $813 million. In response, the union has criticized the district and Beutner, saying LAUSD has a "record breaking" reserve fund of about $1.8 billion that should be tapped to make improvements in school staffing.

The fact finder's report recommended that the district allocate funds, estimated by the district at $30 million, to reduce class sizes and hire more nurses, librarians and counselors. It also calls for the creation of a working group so the district and UTLA can develop contract language relating to class sizes.

"There is no doubt that the union's demands at this point are expensive and the parties are not in agreement on how to cost this item, which will be key to its resolution," according to the report. "My recommendation for settlement involves the dedication of a percentage of money to be used for the employment of teachers and other staff to reduce class size and provide additional student access to the services of librarians, nurses and professional staff."

The district's Tuesday morning statement stressed that a strike "would harm students, families and communities most in need."

"Los Angeles Unified believes the Fact Finder Report and the agreement on 6 percent can provide the basis for a reasonable settlement of the remaining items and hopes UTLA will engage in good-faith bargaining to find an agreement," according to the district.

(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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