Breaking News Emails
Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
By Daniella Silva
Tens of thousands of Los Angeles teachers went on strike Monday after negotiations in the nation’s second-largest school district collapsed.
Braving rain, teachers carrying umbrellas and signs saying “on strike for our students” stood in picket lines Monday morning demanding smaller class sizes; more nurses, counselors and librarians; higher wages for educators; and what they characterize as more accountability for charter schools. There were picket lines at 900 schools across the city, Alex Caputo-Pearl, a teacher and president of the United Teachers Los Angeles union, or UTLA, said at a news conference.
Late Monday morning, an estimated 20,000 teachers and their supporters rallied outside City Hall in downtown Los Angeles before marching to the Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters, police said. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the union had told him that the strike would continue Tuesday and that a march was planned.
Umbrella-wielding marchers cheered and chanted “UTLA” and “Our students and teachers are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back.”
“Here we are in a fight for the soul of public education,” Caputo-Pearl said at a news conference earlier Monday. “The question is: Do we starve our public neighborhood schools so that they are cut and privatized, or do we reinvest in our public neighborhood schools for our students and for a thriving city?”
Joined by other educators, students and representatives from teachers’ unions, Caputo-Pearl said that “educators do not want to strike” but that they felt they had to to fight for the proposals they were demanding for their students.
“California should be leading, not languishing,” he said.
The strike was the latest in a string of teacher walkouts and demonstrations since last year, which includedactions in Arizona, North Carolina, West Virginia, Colorado, Washington state, Oklahoma and Kentucky.
The union says it is taking a stand against what it calls the privatization of public education — charter schools. Charter schools have been booming in the state, rising from 809 in 2009 to 1,323 this year and educating about 10 percent of the state’s public school students, according to the California Charter Schools Association.
California ranks 41st in the nation in per-pupil spending, and even though California has a surplus of nearly $9 billion and L.A. Unified has $1.86 billion in reserves, the average high school class size in the district has grown to 42 students.
“The eyes of the nation are watching, and educators and nurses and public employees all throughout the country have the backs of the educators and the students and the parents in L.A.,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest teacher’s labor union in the United States.
“We are out here because we need the conditions to ensure that every child, not some children, but that every child gets the opportunity he or she or they deserve,” she said.
Arlene Inouye, secretary of the union, said Sunday that the strike was “a last resort” after teachers had been bargaining for 21 months without reaching an agreement. She accused Superintendent Austin Beutner of mischaracterizing the union’s bargaining proposals.
“Parents, educators and our bargaining team have been disrespected by Beutner over and over again,” Inouye said.
In a statement Sunday, the union said that even with $1.86 billion in reserves, the school district “says it does not have the money to improve our schools to include lower class sizes, accountability for charter schools and a real reinvestment in school safety, vital staffing and educational programs.”
“Since 2008, the cost of living in L.A. has increased 27 percent yet the district offers stagnant wages and healthcare,” the statement said.
The school district has defended its bargaining position.
“Los Angeles Unified did not want a strike and offered UTLA leaders a $565 million package to significantly reduce class sizes, add nearly 1,200 educators in schools, and provide all UTLA members with 6 percent salary raises,” the district said, adding that it remained committed to contract negotiations.
Beutner said at a news conference: “We made our last proposal Friday, which was rejected. They walked away from bargaining. We would encourage them, we urge them, to resume bargaining with us anytime, anywhere.”
UTLA has more than 30,000 members. Beutner estimated that 3,500 people were participating in protests on Monday and said that all demonstrations had remained peaceful.
Garcetti said he was “immensely proud” of the teachers for “standing up for what I believe is a righteous cause.” He said he had been talking to both the district and the union, and he called on the two sides to get back to the negotiating table.
Garcetti said the city was also offering extended hours and free lunch at 37 recreation centers during the first day of the strike.
School meals will be served throughout the strike, the district said in a statement Sunday. Early education centers will be open only to special-needs students, and preschool sites will be closed, the district said.
CORRECTION: (Jan. 14, 2019, 6:40 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article included an incorrect pronoun in one reference to Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers. Weingarten should have been referred to as “she,” not “he.”