Teachers Strike Dispatch #11, 01 28 19: Conservatives Open Fire on LA Teachers Union
Opponents of United Teachers of Los Angeles, public education, and teachers unions were unhappy in the weeks leading up to the strike. They expected us to back down, and we didn’t. Then, to make it worse, we struck--and won.
For the purpose of this article, opponents’ recent attacks on UTLA can be more or less divided into four categories:
- UTLA always intended to strike/UTLA’s strike gains don’t really matter
- ‘Illegal’ immigrant-baiting
UTLA always intended to strike/UTLA’s gains don’t matter
In Union Report: Why Both the L.A. Teachers Union and the District Needed the Strike to Happen (The74million.com, 1/23/19), anti-union writer Mike Antonucci tells us:
The strike had to happen because without it, the district would not have made the concessions it did.
Thanks union brother Antonucci--that’s exactly UTLA’s position. We were forced to do this because LAUSD refused to agree to devote resources to our students during our largely fruitless 21 months of negotiating.
The strike had to happen because the union was not going to accept a deal without one…The union invested lots of money and staff time into ensuring the rank and file supported a strike…Agreeing to anything less than a perfect deal prior to a walkout would have led to internal union turmoil.
UTLA prepared for a strike for a long time because UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl and the UTLA leadership anticipated—correctly—that it would take a strike to force LAUSD to devote proper resources to its students. LAUSD chose to force a strike.
This line—unreasonable union bosses forcing a strike despite the wishes of their members to accept the employers’ generous offer—is an old anti-union tactic. At UTLA meetings at my school last year I explained that you could find hundreds of examples of this, that there were strikes in the post-Civil War era where this tactic was used, and that UTLA members shouldn’t credit it. They didn’t.
Perhaps LAUSD thought that the PR hatchet job that the billionaire-backed charter industry and union busters had long financed—including Antonucci’s work—had worked, and that the public would not support us. Doubtless they were surprised and disappointed to see the public’s massive support for public education, public school teachers, and UTLA. To be fair, I don’t blame them—I too was surprised by the amount of support we received.
If there is a downturn or a recession, or even a continued decline in enrollment, the rosy assumptions that made this deal possible will weigh like an anchor on district operations and staffing. All those teachers, counselors, and nurses who are about to be hired will be the first laid off, thanks to seniority provisions. To avoid that, union members may have to make considerable financial sacrifices.
Comrade Antonucci correctly references the boom/bust cycle of capitalism and the way periodic busts wipe out social programs and social progress. For example, UTLA still has not recovered the staffing and pay that we lost during capitalism’s last bust, the Great Recession.
Comrade Antonucci correctly anticipates that capitalism’s next bust cycle—always inevitable, though hopefully this time mild rather than severe—might wipe out what LAUSD students have won through this strike. It does not follow, however, that we were incorrect in fighting to get resources for our students, even if those resources will be endangered in a future economic downturn.
In UTLA agreed to the ‘dreaded’ class size provision in every contract for at least 18 years (LASchoolReport.com, 1/15/19), Antonucci writes:
If you have been paying any attention at all to the issues that have led to the Los Angeles teacher strike, you have heard United Teachers Los Angeles demand the elimination of a provision in the contract that allows L.A. Unified to waive class size restrictions.
One of LAUSD’s most egregious practices is its repeated scrapping of contractually-agreed to class size limits. Section 1.5 of the contract allows the district to set aside these limits during a financial crisis. The district abuses this provision by claiming a dubious crisis to invoke 1.5 on an almost annual basis. This wounds children by ripping away dedicated teachers with whom they’ve built important bonds. It also raises class sizes.
UTLA prioritized eliminating this harmful clause. Several very knowledgeable people told us that LAUSD would “never” give up Section 1.5. Nonetheless, while LAUSD held out as the strike approached and then well into the strike, they finally agreed to give up Section 1.5.
Section 1.5 is not something L.A. Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner created, nor is it something that was only recently added to the teacher contract.
True again. Most of the issues UTLA was battling LAUSD over predated Beutner, and many predated his predecessors. Moreover, UTLA from the beginning maintained that the problem was not just LAUSD—that Sacramento’s lack of education funding played a major role in the problem. But in the course of battle, things get simplified, and Austin Beutner became the symbol of everything UTLA was fighting against. Beutner richly deserved some of this criticism, but only some of it.
That sentence has remained virtually intact since at least the 2001-03 collective bargaining agreement, signed off by the last five UTLA presidents, including the current one, Alex Caputo-Pearl.
Antonucci’s boils down to “UTLA agreed to it, so they can’t complain.” The problem is that we agreed to this provision being invoked when there’s a fiscal crisis. There were times when this was fair for LAUSD to do—in 2010, for example. The problem is that this provision—which UTLA agreed to in good faith—has been used by the district in bad faith. Section 1.5 has been invoked repeatedly over the past decade—a clear abuse of its intent.
If a man tells his wife he needs to take $1,500 out of their bank account to pay for a new transmission for the family vehicle, and instead spends it on cocaine and strip clubs, I doubt he’ll try to tell his wife, “You can’t blame me—after all, you agreed to give me the money.” UTLA agreed to this provision to protect LAUSD in a fiscal crisis, not as something to be used every year to eliminate the class sizes LAUSD contractually agreed to.
When districts try to remove something from a contract that has been previously bargained, unions slam them for it, calling such attempts “takebacks.” As things now stand, it is UTLA demanding a takeback…
Getting LAUSD to follow the class size averages and caps they agreed to in the contract is a “takeback”? Imagine if the union were violating our contract in this large scale, destructive way—Antonucci and his anti-union friends would be screaming it from the rooftops.
…which the district is unwilling to surrender in its entirety.
Unwilling before the strike anyway—after getting clobbered, LAUSD did in fact give up 1.5 in its entirety.
The solution, as always, is bargaining. It will happen in this case, too, but only after UTLA gets its parade.
We tried bargaining it away for years, and it didn’t work. It was our strike (“parade”) which finally forced LAUSD to remove it, and abide by the terms of the contract.
In Los Angeles Teachers' Union Postpones Strike (1/10/19), Breitbart states:
Under the banner of the #RedForEd movement, a “resistance” campaign with Marxist underpinnings, the national teachers’ unions and the California Teachers Association are supporting UTLA.
Our central demands were smaller class sizes, a nurse and librarian in every school, and more counselors. I confess my Marx is a little rusty—I’ll have to go back and check what Marx wrote about elementary school nurses. Was that in Das Kapital?
In April 2018, [#RedForEd leader and Marxist teacher] Karvelis gave an interview…about #RedForEd to Radio Sputnik, which is owned and operated by the Russian government.
Breitbart, you do understand that Russia is a capitalist country, correct? That communism was overthrown, the Soviet Union dissolved, a free-market economy introduced—does any of that ring a bell?
If Karvelis gave an interview to Radio Havana, your point—inconsequential as it is—might hold, but citing Sputnik? You might as well cite the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The Daily Beast reported in February 2018 that “internal documents show that guests never make it onto [Radio Sputnik’s] airwaves without the approval of a state-owned media organ close to Russia President Vladimir Putin.”
I appeared on Radio Sputnik during the strike—when I was invited on I must confess I didn’t realize that one of Vladimir Putin’s henchmen had personally approved my appearance.
Failed Democrat presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has tweeted that he stands “in solidarity” with the Los Angeles teachers’ union:
That was nice of him. And?
I told the teachers at my school before the strike began that, whatever we do, our opponents will manufacture alleged “violence.” After all, our opponents would rather talk about anything than our righteous demands.
The words were hardly out of my mouth when Why my child will attend school during a UTLA teacher strike (LAschoolreport.com, 1/3/19) by Evelyn Alemán came out. (LAschoolreport.com, like its parent site/partner site the74million.com, is a billionaire-funded Astroturf site whose purpose is to tear down public education and public educators, and encourage the privatization/charterization of public schools.)
The line of teachers picketing at an elementary school near downtown L.A. in May of 1989 spanned across the façade of the building and main points of entry. My boyfriend and I (now husband) were both college students at nearby Cal State L.A. and teachers’ aides (TAs)…On the first day of the nine-day strike and throughout its duration, we arrived on campus to blocked entrances, yelling, heckling of everyone and anyone who crossed the picket line.
They weren’t heckling parents or students, they were heckling scabs. Solid picketlines, and strikers who understand that scabbing is shameful and damaging—problem?
The experience brought disruption and anxiety to an already-vulnerable student population and its families.
I’m sorry that LAUSD management chose to put those parents and kids in that position.
Teachers who didn’t participate in the strike were isolated and given the cold shoulder by colleagues. For months, some chose to eat in their classrooms – alone.
In most cases it was a lot longer than a few months. Many didn’t forgive the scabs for years or decades.
Those teachers had a choice—support their colleagues and their righteous demands, or undermine their colleagues for a little extra money. They made their choice. Not only did they get paid during the strike but they enjoyed the raise and other benefits their striking colleagues sacrificed to win for them, and did win for them despite these people undermining the strike.
My boyfriend and I were torn, because although we agreed with the strike in principle, we simply didn’t feel that it was in the best interest of the kids. We felt then, as we do now, that there must have been a better way to resolve issues between the union and the school district.
Yes, there should’ve been a better way, but just like this time, there wasn’t. In this strike we negotiated for 21 months, during much of which LAUSD offered us nothing. As we got close to the strike they sweetened their offer a bit, but not much.
What I learned from that experience is that violence gets us nowhere, and a strike – more than an act of dissension is combative.
“Violence”? What violence? Is Ms. Aleman suggesting that eating lunch alone because you’ve betrayed your colleagues makes you a victim of “violence”?
… Alex Caputo-Pearl, head of the UTLA, said members “are energized by the stand we’re taking after years of taking punches to the gut and the jaw.” The words evoked violent imagery of a boxing match or back alley fight…
“Violence” again? Caputo-Pearl’s statement is true, and the only “violence” he refers to is what has been done to us, not what we did or could do to others.
Mr. Caputo-Pearl also encouraged parents to keep their children at home…
False--United Teachers of Los Angeles’ position on students coming to school during the strike was no position. We did not advise in favor or against it. Of course we welcomed the thousands of students who joined us on the picketline, but that was their choice.
…I too agree on everything teachers are asking for
Of course. Almost everybody on the other side--including sweet-talking pro-charter LA School Board VP Nick Melvoin and even Austin Beutner himself--is full of sympathy for our demands and compliments for teachers’ self-sacrifice and heroism. But you can save it. As my wife told me, all that stuff is the equivalent of “thoughts and prayers.” “Thoughts and prayers” don’t improve our schools—proper funding does.
…[During the strike] I will send my child to school and into the classroom, because I too agree on everything teachers are asking for, which the District says it would like to offer were it not for its current financial circumstances.
Yes, LAUSD claimed it was running a $500 million a year deficit—over a period where they quadrupled their surplus up to almost $2 billion. (I confess this left me envious of LAUSD’s fiscal acumen—I wish the federal government could run large budget deficits every year then end up with a massive budget surplus).
To learn more about LAUSD’s false claims of destitution—claims we’ve heard for three decades, by the way—see my column New Independent Study Confirms LAUSD Has the Money to Meet UTLA’s Demands.
I will send her to school because I firmly believe that a strike is not the answer
Then what was the answer? We spent 21 months sitting patiently while LAUSD refused to address the needs of its students. Should we have waited a decade?
I will send her to school because at 14-years-old my child and all of the children in the district can’t afford to lose a day of instruction.
It’s nice that Ms. Aleman believes every day of education is so crucial. I certainly conduct my classes that way. I might ask though that, if every day of education is so important, why is it apparently unimportant that LAUSD’s hoarding of funds made each day of that education less effective than it should have been?
Lastly, I will send her to school because this is an opportunity to teach my child that lessons about social justice begin in the classroom.
Aleman should’ve respected the picketline 30 years ago—it’s a shame she didn’t offer her daughter a chance to correct her mother’s error and join the 2019 picketline. Thousands of LAUSD students did. They learned vastly more about “social justice” on those lines and at our downtown rallies than one would learn sitting in a classroom “taught” by a scab who undermined teachers’ fight for social justice.
Breitbart’s Joel B. Pollak, coauthor of the pro-Trump book How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, was recently horrified to learn that many LAUSD students are the children of “illegal aliens.” In Educating Illegal Aliens and Their Children Costs L.A. Schools Hundreds of Millions Per Year (1/20/19), he writes:
The ongoing strike by the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) union against the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is about teacher pay, classroom size, support staff, and especially charter schools, which the union says take money away from the district.
Left unspoken, however, is the cost of educating illegal aliens, and their children — which could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars per year, if not billions, experts say.
Steven A. Camarota, director of research, at the Center for Immigration Studies, told Breitbart News on Friday that “between one-fifth and one-fourth of the students in LAUSD are the children of illegal immigrants — though most of those were born in the U.S.” He said that a smaller percentage of the students (“in the single digits”) are illegal immigrants themselves.
I suspect this understates it--at my high school anyway, the majority of the students are the children of at least one “illegal” immigrant, and many of the kids—far more than single digits—are here “illegally.”
The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) put the cost of educating the children of illegal aliens statewide at over $12 billion in a 2014 study. A significant proportion of those students are served by the LAUSD.
Does FAIR have a figure for the tremendous value of the labor these “illegal” immigrants provide the state of California? And at greatly reduced rates, I’d add. Their cheap, exploited labor is a massive subsidy of businesses, and an indirect subsidy of most of the rest of us, for whom most products and services are cheaper because so much labor is provided by immigrants so cheaply.
FAIR might account for some of the taxes “illegals” pay—such as sales tax and income tax (though that’s probably modest since so many of their incomes are so low or, instead of being hired as fulltime employees with benefits, they often work under the table).
“Illegals” also indirectly pay property taxes via rent. And those California business taxes that conservatives are always moaning about—some of that is paid by “illegal” immigrants also, since their labor is a key part of many businesses’ profits.
…the continued arrival of illegal aliens has arguably strained the public education system — and will continue to do so unless the country’s borders are secured. Yet no one in L.A. seems to be discussing the problem.
Their hardworking parents are more than paying for the value of their education, so what’s the “strain”?
A Final Appeal to Reason about Immigrant Students
There’s a major political divide in this country over immigrants, and I have no particular desire to compromise with opponents of immigrants. But I would ask them to try to find common ground with us on one thing—teachers’ responsibility as professionals.
Does a doctor not try as hard to cure a patient based on their legal status? Does a surgeon cut less carefully on an “illegal”? What would you think of them if they did?
Even the most reactionary opponents of immigrants would doubtless lose respect for any medical professional who did that. So why should it be any different with teachers?
As teachers our loyalty is to our students. In my early 20s I was inspired to become a teacher by the depiction of San Quentin prison school teacher Chris Lovdjieff from Eldridge Cleaver's Soul on Ice. Cleaver discusses how the inmates respected Lovdjieff, a dedicated teacher who believed that education was for everybody, even illiterate convicts.
Lovdjieff wanted to teach the convicts as much as he could, and continually pushed the prison administrators to allow him to teach more classes. Cleaver wrote "if Chris Lovdjieff could've gotten himself a prison cell so he could teach us 20 hours a day, he would've done it."
Cleaver wrote that Lovdjieff was so effective that the officials would sometimes have to send a guard to his class to make him stop teaching, so the inmates could be locked up for the night:
He was horror-stricken that they could make such a demand of him. Reluctantly, he’d sit down heavily in his seat, burdened by defeat, and tell us to go to our cells. Part of the power we gave him was that we would never leave his class unless he himself dismissed us. If a guard came and told us to leave, he got only cold stares; we would not move until Lovdjieff gave the word.
Lovdjieff was loyal to his students regardless of the crimes they had committed. I don’t consider “illegal” immigration to be a crime, but even if I did, our loyalty needs to be to our students, regardless of their immigration status. Would opponents of immigrants really want it to be any other way?