Negotiators for striking Los Angeles teachers and the United States’ second-largest school district have returned to the bargaining table for the first time since talks collapsed last week, as a walkout by some 30,000 educators entered its fourth day.
In the first teachers’ strike in the Los Angeles Unified School District in 30 years, members of the United Teachers Los Angeles union are seeking higher pay, smaller classes and more support staff, while denouncing their current working conditions as an “injustice.”
“They are resolute on reaching an agreement,” union President Alex Caputo-Pearl said at a news conference, referring to the union’s bargaining team ahead of Jan. 17 talks.
School District Superintendent Austin Beutner has said the demands, if fully met, would place too great a strain on the district’s budget.
The union is seeking a 6.5 percent pay raise. School district teacher pay currently averages $75,000, according to state figures. The district has offered a 6 percent increase with back pay.
A statement from the office of Mayor Eric Garcetti, who attended a teachers’ rally earlier this week and has voiced strong support for their cause, said Jan. 17 that the bargaining teams “have returned to the table and negotiations have begun.”
Garcetti, serving as a mediator in the renewed talks, met earlier in the day with Caputo-Pearl and Beutner at City Hall, his office said. It wasn’t clear whether the mayor spoke with the two together or individually.
Union leaders said Garcetti had met with both parties Jan. 16, and that California’s top education official, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, also was in contact with each side and had offered his support toward reaching a settlement.
Thurmond could play a key role in helping the district to secure extra funds it may need to close a deal with the teachers.
Negotiators for the district and the union last met face-to-face on Jan. 11, when union leaders rejected the district’s latest contract offer. The union disputes Beutner’s assertions that the district lacks sufficient resources to accept teachers’ demands.
Caputo-Pearl said Jan. 16 that the union was “engaged” with Thurmond and California Gov. Gavin Newsom to “try to push on the state as well for additional funding.”
“The money’s there. There’s no doubt about it. California is the richest state in the country,” he told reporters. “The money is there for kids.”
The teachers, who have been without a contract for nearly a year, walked off the job Jan. 14. District officials have kept all 1,200 schools open on a limited basis, with a skeleton staff of administrators and substitute teachers, but attendance has been running at roughly a third of normal.
Thousands of striking teachers fanned out across the sprawling school district for a series of rallies and picketing, braving a fourth day of showers that did little to dampen their spirits.
“It’s important that we show the example of what we can do and the power that we have as the people,” high school music teacher Justin Polk said at the news conference, alongside Caputo-Pearl. “Our strength comes in numbers.”
Reporting by Steve Gorman and Alex Dobuzinskis.