L.A. Teachers Union Files Labor Complaint Against Voluntary Extra School Days

4 additional days are entirely optional, and teachers will be paid their normal rate. Union calls them a “misuse of educational funding”

United Teachers Los Angeles President Cecily Myart-Cruz (Getty Images)

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United Teachers Los Angeles will boycott the first of four planned voluntary school days meant to provide additional instruction to students struggling academically.

Though the days, scheduled in October, December, March and April, are entirely optional and teachers will be paid their normal rate, the union refused to participate. In statements, the union called the plan a “misuse of educational funding” and a “$122 million stunt.”

Public schools in Los Angeles were among the last in the nation to reopen after the COVID pandemic. Most students did not return to the classroom until the end of April 2021, more than a year after schools closed.

The long-lasting effects of all that lost instructional time prompted the federal government to make an additional $128 billion available to K-12 schools nationwide for COVID relief and to address learning loss.

The first statewide test scores since schools reopened are due to be released later this year in California, and no one is expecting good news.

“However we put it — interrupted learning, unfinished learning, learning loss; whatever is politically palatable to the listening ear — they did not do as well as they should,” said Alberto Carvalho, the new superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

“There’s an urgency the likes of which I’ve never seen in the 30-plus years I worked as an educator in this country,” Carvalho said.

That urgency doesn’t seem to have reached union headquarters; President Cecily Myart-Cruz has notoriously denied the existence of learning loss. The union is instead laser-focused on collective bargaining in the district.

Back in April, the L.A. school board unanimously voted to approve the 2022-23 school calendar, which included an additional seven optional days — three for professional development for teachers and four instructional days spread throughout the year.

Within days, the union sent a letter to the district with a “demand to bargain” over the extended school year. The union immediately requested “a detailed explanation” of the “factual and legal basis” for developing the plan. It also wanted to know how the district came up with the $122 million price tag.

The district responded soon after, and it is curious that the union is now calling the plan a waste of taxpayer dollars, since the $122 million is needed to pay teachers for the extra days — some of which was already spent for the professional development days earlier this month.

Nevertheless, the union filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the state labor relations board, accusing the district of failure to bargain in good faith over the school calendar.

The dispute occurs within the context of contract negotiations. The teachers’ collective bargaining agreement expired at the end of June. The union is seeking 10% salary hikes for each of the next two years and wants the $122 million designated for the additional days spent instead on “smaller class sizes, hiring more counselors, psychiatric social workers and school psychologists and investing in teacher development.” The district is reluctant to add permanent staff who are funded with temporary federal COVID relief money.

The district will have difficulty getting its way, since virtually nothing can happen in California schools without first bargaining with the union. State law and the contracts themselves spell out which issues require negotiation and which don’t, but the California Teachers Association advises all its local affiliates: “When in doubt, demand to bargain.”

The L.A. union’s stance is somewhat undermined by SEIU 99, the union representing support employees in the Los Angeles district.

“As education workers, we support the acceleration days and all efforts to help our students succeed,” SEIU 99 posted on its website. “Our union participated in conversations with LAUSD about this change in the instructional calendar, and we believe the additional days are a benefit for both students and staff.”

A Los Angeles Unified spokesperson confirmed to The 74 that the district and teachers union have opened negotiations on the additional days. This was probably the union’s aim in announcing a boycott of just the first of the four days, rather than all four. We can now expect extended back-and-forth bargaining that will ultimately result in the union getting more of what it wants: additional staff.

Los Angeles schools are beset with plummeting student enrollment. The union thinks that can somehow be remedied with more employees. “The most powerful way we can impact students is to have more caring adults on campus,” Myart-Cruz said last year.

Assuming there are any students left.

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

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