Antonucci: The Showdown Between Los Angeles and Its Teachers Union Enters a Final Phase, as Teachers, District Leaders and Families Prepare for Possible January Strike

UTLA teachers rally in front of L.A. City Hall on May 24, 2018. (Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Mike Antonucci’s Union Report appears most Wednesdays; see the full archive.

The contract dispute between the L.A. Unified School District and United Teachers Los Angeles entered its final phase as the three-member fact-finding panel was finally seated last week. The panel now has 30 days to submit a nonbinding report of its recommendations, after which the district may impose its final offer and the union may strike.

There is no danger of the union striking before the holiday break. It has already informed its members that the strike will occur in January if no agreement is reached, though it has not settled on a specific date.

In its communications, L.A. Unified is sticking to its message that it supports much of what the union wants in terms of class sizes and additional staff but that the increased spending will drive the district into bankruptcy. L.A. Unified continues to balk at union demands for further restrictions on charter schools, magnet schools, and testing.

A flyer that the union has distributed and posted on its website details its action plan.

On Dec. 4 and 11, union members will boycott scheduled faculty meetings and use that time to phone students’ parents to inform them “about the issues and invite them to the Dec. 15 March for Public Education.” On Dec. 6, members will hand out leaflets to parents at school sites.

The weekend of Dec. 7-9, students and teachers will participate in a “strike prep art build” in which banners, posters, and picket signs will be constructed for use during the march and strike.

These actions will culminate in a large-scale march Saturday, Dec. 15.

After the Dec. 15 march, classes will not resume until Jan. 7, but despite the statutory deadline, it is not 100 percent certain that the fact-finding report will be issued by then. It is a good sign that the panel is composed of highly experienced individuals.

There was the usual squabbling about naming the chair of the panel. The union rejected out of hand three names submitted by L.A. Unified. The state Public Employment Relations Board picked David A. Weinberg, founder of his own arbitration firm. He served for 17 years as a mediator for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

L.A. Unified selected Adam Fiss to represent the district on the panel. Fiss is an attorney for Littler Mendelson, the largest labor representation firm for employers in the nation.

The union chose Vern Gates as its representative. Gates works for the California Teachers Association’s Negotiations and Organizational Development Department. If there is any reason at all for optimism, it is that Gates served on a fact-finding panel in Torrance last May.

Gates and the Torrance district negotiator were able to reach agreement on most issues outside of the panel’s deliberations. They left only one — the school calendar — to be addressed by fact-finding. The chair applauded Gates’s “diligence,” which ultimately brought negotiations to a successful conclusion.

Of course, the distance between district and union is much greater in Los Angeles than it was in Torrance. If Gates can bridge that gap, he deserves to be called a miracle worker.

The union’s public actions will dominate the news cycle for the next month, but the panel’s findings will determine the validity of the district’s financial projections. If the report supports the district, it may have a nominal effect on public perception, but it won’t dissuade the union from carrying out its own plans.

At this point, it’s hard to see where the bargaining part of collective bargaining has gone.

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