Norm Bass, 4th grade teacher at Compton Avenue Elementary: “I’m just so glad to be part of such a historic event. This is the first time I’ve actually stood up. For most of my life I’ve been on the sidelines, but this is the first time I’ve actually stepped up; and I feel so liberated, and I feel so so good that we’re doing something for someone else. And I, I miss my babies and I really cannot wait to get back to them and get back to work. And I’m just so thankful for all that came out, and all the support. This is beautiful. It’s something I will never ever forget. It’s life transforming.”
After seven days without pay and continuous picketing during rainy mornings and afternoons, the over 33,000 teachers represented by United Teachers Los Angeles approved a tentative agreement with the Los Angeles Unified School District – the nation’s second largest – ending the teachers’ strike. The agreement came after a 21 hour bargaining session brokered by both Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and State Superintendent for Education Tony Thurmond, which spilled over from earlier sessions conducted at the end of last week. Teachers are expected to return to work on Jan. 29 with many important advancements made.
A key victory of this agreement was the elimination of section 1.5 in article 18 of the LAUSD/UTLA contract, which allowed LAUSD to routinely ignore previously agreed-upon caps on class sizes. The agreement also guarantees the immediate reduction of class sizes by seven students in every secondary Math and English course, capping classes at 39 students. General class size reductions will follow a four-year plan with a reduction by one student per grade level for the 2019-2020 school year and a complete compliance with the previously agreed-upon class size averages and maximums by 2022. According to UTLA, the gradual four-year timeline was agreed upon because of the large costs and resources needed to reduce class sizes in the more than 1,000 LAUSD schools.
Schools will now also benefit from full-time nurses at every school, as well as full-time librarians in every secondary school, where current funding arrangements left schools with nurses and librarians contracted to work one day a week. Furthermore, by this October, the district will reduce the student to counselor ratio down to 500:1, representing a decrease by several hundred students. The district will now also exempt 28 schools from “random” search policies that have continually targeted students of color and a legal defense fund will be created for undocumented students facing deportation. Teaching staff will gain a 6 percent raise overall and will develop a plan to reduce burdensome standardized assessments by 50 percent.
A cap on charters was unable to be addressed in the collective bargaining agreement but some sort of cap on charter schools will be voted on by the school board. Most importantly, the UTLA strike has sparked a county-wide movement that forged unity between the union, parents, students, and community organizations to defeat the charter school drain on public funds affecting LA schools. Contrary to the corporate narrative, which attacked and undermined the strike from the beginning, students and teachers have been left much better off than they were before the strike.
Leticia Miller, UTLA union representative and committee chair for Career Technical Education, told Liberation News: “You know, it is historical. One of the things that I really want to put in the forefront is that I’m glad that we’ve come to an agreement, but I still am skeptical about our superintendent, because he’s gone from one end of the spectrum – that we need larger class sizes and less money – to [saying], now we deserve smaller class sizes and more money. So I’m definitely going to keep my eyes open. I’m really really glad, and you know you can see the support from all the teachers out here, and how important it is to each one of us, that we do come to an agreement that’s equitable, but more than anything serves our children in the best way possible.”
The Los Angeles strike, coming on the heels of teachers’ walkouts last year from Oklahoma to Chicago to Arizona to West Virginia and beyond, remains a radical call to action for the rest of the labor movement. The school privatization movement has suffered a tremendous setback in the past year and the historic Los Angeles strike has contributed greatly to what could become a reversal of several decades of assault on public education. Teachers reinvigorated labor last year and the influence of the Los Angeles struggle has now reached areas including Oakland, Calif., and Denver, Colo., where teachers are currently debating whether they should go on strike. Los Angeles stood in solidarity with its teachers and now many more workers are becoming empowered by the strength they displayed.