By Martin Macias Jr.
LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles public school teachers can begin their strike on Monday, Jan. 14, after a judge ruled Thursday that the school district could not extend the strike delay even further or block it altogether.
United Teachers Los Angeles had planned to begin their strike on Jan. 10 but were forced to delay it after the school district sought an injunction to block the union and its members from striking.
Barrett Green of Littler Mendelson, an attorney for the school district, said at a hearing Thursday that the district’s collective bargaining agreement requires the union to provide a written 10-day notice before a strike begins.
Green said the district needs time to prepare before a strike and requires confirmation that a strike threat is real.
“The district is constantly in negotiations with different parties and never knows what’s a real threat,” Green said, adding that the district could suffer irreparable harm if sufficient notice wasn’t granted.
Joshua Adams of Bush Gottlieb, an attorney for the union, said a Dec. 19 email notice of a strike was “clear,” and added that the union’s Jan. 2 email to the district simply sought reaffirmation that the notice was received.
Adams said the district’s concern about any irreparable harm was “speculative.”
In a bench ruling after the hearing, Superior Court Judge Mary Strobel denied the district’s argument for a temporary restraining order and said no evidence showed that the district would suffer any harm if the strike begins on Monday.
“Any irreparable harm the district has suffered has largely already occurred,” Strobel said.
As part of her ruling, Strobel recognized Dec. 17 as the official date of termination of the teacher’s contract, which the district sought to continue enforcing.
In a statement, the school district said it will continue negotiations to seek to resolve contract issues and avoid a strike.
“Los Angeles Unified is willing to work around the clock to avoid a strike that will harm the students, families and communities most in need,” the district said.
UTLA said in a statement following the ruling that Judge Strobel reaffirmed the union’s legal right to strike and that it properly notified LAUSD.
The union announced plans for its 30,000 educators to strike on Dec. 19, backed by a 98 percent vote by its members in August to authorize the strike.
Union officials met with the school district’s bargaining team on Wednesday but did not make any progress.
In a statement after those failed bargaining talks, the school district said it offered the union a reduction in class sizes and more than 1,000 new hires, including nurses, counselors and other educators.
The union wants to see the school district use its $1.8 billion in reserves to reduce class sizes and bolster new hires including nurses, librarians and other staff. They’re also seeking a pay raise and a cap on public dollars that benefit charter schools across the district.
A spokesperson for the district did not immediately provide comment on the ruling.
After California Gov. Gavin Newsom released a proposed 2019-20 budget that would increase funding for public education, the district said Thursday that it would offer the union an updated proposal that would reduce class size and provide support for classroom educators.
“Our current offer goes a long way by adding almost 1,000 educators to schools in Los Angeles Unified, and the additional funding will allow us to further reduce class size,” School Board President Monica Garcia said in a statement.
A district spokesperson did not provide details on the updated offer by press time Thursday afternoon.
Meanwhile, 80 teachers at three LA-based charter schools have threatened to strike on Jan. 15 if the network doesn’t meet their demands on health care plan contributions, revamping teacher dismissal protocol and addressing turnover rates that are as high as 50 percent at some schools.
The educators, also represented by UTLA, began negotiations with the network in April 2017.
During bargaining, the Accelerated Schools network proposed freezing contributions to health care premiums, passing on all future increases to teachers, and retaining the ability to fire any teacher, without cause or explanation, at the end of each year.
After coming to impasse, 99 percent of teachers voted in June 2018 to authorize a strike.
“Teachers know that our demands are not only reasonable, but modest and achievable,” said Simone Barclay, a second grade teacher at Accelerated. “We are outraged that we may be forced to strike over such basic rights that 90 percent of teachers in L.A. already enjoy.”
A UTLA spokesperson said Thursday that no negotiations have been scheduled with the charter operator.
With negations set to resume Friday, UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said at a press conference that he has not seen any updated proposal from the district but remains hopeful that negotiations can avert a strike.
“We go with an open mind with hopes of seeing a proposal tomorrow,” Caputo-Pearl said Thursday.
If the Accelerated teachers strike, they’d be the first charter educators in LA to do so and only the second charter teachers to strike in the country. Educators at the Acero charter network in Chicago went on strike last December.
A spokesperson for Accelerated did not immediately respond to a request for comment.