Los Angeles Teachers’ Strike Updates: Demands for More Pay and More Help

 nytimes.com  1/14/2019 4:00:16 PM  2  The New York Times
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Members of United Teachers Los Angeles, the teachers’ union, prepared earlier this month for a strike in the nation’s second-largest school district.CreditCreditJenna Schoenefeld for The New York Times

LOS ANGELES — More than 30,000 Los Angeles public-school teachers began a long-planned strike on Monday, pressing demands for higher pay, smaller classes and more support staff in the schools.

The strike affects roughly 500,000 students at 900 schools in the district, the second-largest in the nation. The schools will remain open, staffed by substitutes hired by the city, but many parents have said they will not send their children across picket lines.

The impact of the walkout is likely to ripple across California and the rest of the country. Teachers mounted large-scale strikes in six other states last year to protest low pay and demand more money for public education.

The decision to walk off the job came after months of negotiations between the teachers’ union, United Teachers Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles Unified School District. Although educators on all sides agree California should spend more money on education, the union and the district are locked in a bitter feud about how Los Angeles should use the money it already gets.

Reporters will be covering the strike throughout the day. We also want to hear from readers who will be striking or whose family will be affected. Email us at CAtoday@nytimes.com.

Here’s what you need to know:

Union leaders have complained about large classes, which have grown to more than 40 students in some of the district’s middle and high schools, and have said the system needs many more nurses, counselors, librarians and other support staff as well as teachers.

Although district officials have agreed to come closer to meeting some of the union’s demands, they say fulfilling all of them would bankrupt the system, which is already strained by rising health care and pension costs.

District officials have tried for weeks to avert the strike, putting political and legal pressure on the union to stop teachers from walking off the job. Instead of encouraging a walkout, district officials argued, the union should direct its energy and its frustrations at the state government in Sacramento, which determines the district’s annual budget. — JENNIFER MEDINA

At Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, a large campus in Koreatown, hundreds of teachers and supporters held signs declaring “We demand respect” and “Striking for our students.” The picket line was a sea of umbrellas, with many covering their signs in plastic wrap to protect them from rain.

The teachers’ union has urged parents to walk the picket line in support of the strike, and it was unclear how many of the 500,000 students would show up at schools, which will have only a skeletal staff on campuses.

By 8 a.m., dozens of students and parents had gathered along the sidewalk to support the teachers, but there was also a steady stream of students entering R.F.K., which houses several small schools on its campus.

Once the students entered, they were shuffled inside to the campus library, cafeteria or another large gathering area. It was unclear whether any instruction would be given.

Sophie Chiang, a 10th-grade student, arrived well before the 8:20 a.m. first bell. “Oh God, it’s really happening,” she said as she approached the line of teachers in red ponchos shouting “Whose schools? Our schools!” She was momentarily worried that she would stopped from entering, but nobody on the picket line stopped her. And the campus security guard who is usually at the entrance was not as his post. — JENNIFER MEDINA

At first glance, Monday’s massive strike in Los Angeles looks like a continuation of the teacher protests we saw across the country in 2018. While some of the issues — stagnant salaries and low classroom funding — are similar, this urban strike is far different from the statewide walkouts we’ve recently seen in conservative and swing states. Here’s why:

1. These teachers are picketing their bosses, not politicians. The six state walkouts in 2018 featured teachers traveling to state capitols to lobby legislators and governors for higher taxes and more school funding. In contrast, the Los Angeles action is a traditional strike in which teachers are protesting against their bosses: the district’s superintendent and Board of Education.

2. The Los Angeles union is strong. In the six walkout states, teachers’ unions were weak and the majority of teachers in many districts were not members. That’s not the case in California, a strong labor state where public employee strikes are legal. The president of United Teachers Los Angeles, Alex Caputo-Pearl, is part of a group of more strident local union leaders who have, for years, been critiquing school-reform priorities such as the expansion of the charter school sector — a major issue in Los Angeles — and the growth of standardized testing. These issues were simmering in the nation’s second-largest city for years before the West Virginia walkout that began in February 2018.

3. Los Angeles is trying to keep schools open. It’s unusual for a district to keep all schools open during a strike in which all teachers are expected to participate, but that’s what Los Angeles Unified is trying. This allows the district to continue serving meals and providing child care to its high-needs student population, 82 percent of whom come from low-income families. But with far fewer adults than usual, there probably won’t be much traditional instruction going on. Students may be grouped together in cafeterias and auditoriums, perhaps watching movies or playing games. — DANA GOLDSTEIN

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