Victory for students and educators in Los Angeles

After two years of negotiations and six days on the picket lines, the United Teachers Los Angeles reached a tentative contract agreement with the L.A. school district. The details were worked out over an all-night bargaining session that lasted until sunrise.

UTLA parents and kids march for teachers

“The agreement is a paradigm shift for the city and nation, as it makes a clear commitment to the resources and conditions necessary for teachers to teach and kids to learn in L.A.’s public schools,” AFT President Randi Weingarten says. “This strike and the community support of the teacher strikers flipped the debate over public education in L.A. on its head. And the result is nothing short of a sea change for public schools and for educators in L.A. and in the country.”

The strike proved to the district that the public stands behind public school teachers. Parents, students, clergy, the entire union community and the Los Angeles educators came together to inspire city leadership to reorder their priorities and put public schools first. In ways large and small, people stood with students and teachers: There was the police officer who lent his RV to be used a rest station on the picket lines; the parents who staged an impromptu press conference to ensure their calls to support the teachers would be heard; the teachers packing thousands of bags of food for their students so they wouldn’t go hungry during the strike; and the tens of thousands of people from all over the country who signed petitions, spoke out on social media and called the school district offices on behalf of this cause.

UTLA strike photo collage

The agreement delivers on the defining demands of the contract campaign:

  • A much-deserved 6 percent pay raise with no contingencies.
  • A nurse in every school five days a week.
  • Hard caps on class size that will lower class sizes immediately in 2019-20, with more improvements every year after.
  • A commitment to reduce testing by 50 percent.
  • A teacher librarian in every secondary school five days a week.
  • Investment in community schools.
  • A clear pathway to capping charters.
  • Hard caps on special education caseloads and release time for testing.
  • Important wins for adult education, early childhood education and substitute educators.
  • Progress on common-good demands such as ending random searches, expanding green space and supporting immigrant families.

"For too long, teachers have lived with a hard truth to tell—that for years our students were being starved of the resources they need," says UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl. "Our expectations were fundamentally raised by this strike. Together we said we deserve better, our students deserve better. We must keep our expectations high and not let go of this moment, because the next struggle is right around the corner."

The austerity measures that have plagued California schools go back for decades, resulting in inadequate resources for educators, which took a toll on the education of L.A.’s students. California is the 5th largest economy in the world, but is 43rd in the nation in per-pupil spending. Thanks to the courage of educators, students, parents and community members, the city of Los Angeles is starting a new chapter.

“This was a fight for the soul of public education,” says Weingarten. “It was a fight to invest in public schools after decades of neglect, and while one contract can’t fix everything, this is a starting point. Teachers want what kids need, and today in Los Angeles, because of this struggle, teachers got a big step closer to securing what our kids need.”

[Elizabeth Sell]