One teachers’ union has already begun rallying, joining a growing national teachers movement that demands fairer pay, while UCLA employees protest massive layoff
HUNDREDS of educators across the Los Angeles Union School District (LAUSD) braved the early morning rain on Thursday, April 19 to picket for higher wages, safer campuses and more staffing and resources.
“LA is at a tipping point,” United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) Secondary Vice President Dan Barnhart said. “If we continue to starve our schools, disrespect our educators and shortchange our students, public education will not survive.”
From Sylmar High School in Sylmar to Felicitas & Gonzalo Mendez High School in Boyle Heights, teachers, janitors and other school workers picketed amid prolonged contract discussions with the LAUSD, which many protesters felt have not addressed the needs for students and teachers.
UTLA’s county-wide protest follows other teacher protests held across the nation, demanding policymakers to institute more funding rather than heed to suggestions to arm teachers with guns following the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
At Thursday’s rally, picketers used the hashtag #ArmMeWith as a way to divert the attention to arming teachers with guns to providing teachers with a wide range of classroom resources and reform.
“Arm us, not with guns, but with counselors, school nurses, psychologists, teacher librarians, fair pay, less standardized testing, lower class sizes, support for special education, and more,” according to the event flyer.
UTLA has advocated for more funding from the state and for the LAUSD to tap into its reserve fund — $1.7 billion according to the UTLA — to meet classroom needs.
Thursday’s rally comes just days after thousands of union members from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 99 voted to authorize the union to call a strike if necessary.
About 94 percent of SEIU Local 99 members cast their supportive votes from March 12 to April 13 at more than 700 district sites including schools, special education centers, and early education centers.
“We will let the District know that the members of the Local 99 have spoken and we’re ready to strike — for fair wages, for more staffing, for respect,” Local 99 President Conrado Guerrero said in a statement. “We should all be proud of the courageous step we’ve just taken together.”
The issue of teachers’ wages has been central to the protests, and while LAUSD officials increased a proposed wage hike from 2 to 3 percent in the 2018-2019 school year, union leaders don’t think it’s enough.
“It’s a step in the right direction but it’s not enough,” said Max Arias, Local 99 executive director, said. “A majority of school workers are also parents of LAUSD students. The District’s insistence on low wage, part-time work has a direct impact on students as their parents struggle to pay rent and put food on the table.”
Local 99 has accused the LAUSD of “knowingly” allowing subpar staffing capacities for custodians which have resulted in unsanitary bathroom facilities. Guerrero said that the district has admitted that its schools are only half-staffed relative to the actual necessities of the schools.
“The dedicated school workers who transport students safely to school, feed them, support their classroom learning, and keep their classrooms and playgrounds clean have made our voices heard,” Guerrero said. “We are tired of this school district dismissing and devaluing our work. We are an essential part of student learning and if it takes a strike for LAUSD to understand that, we’re ready to take action.”
The LAUSD did not respond to requests for a comment on this piece.
Although California is ranked as the 6th largest economy in the world, California ranks among the lowest in public education funding. According to a January 2017 report from the left-leaning California Budget and Policy Center, “California is ranked 41st among all states in spending per K-12 student after adjusting for differences in the cost of living in each state.”
In the 2015-2016 academic year — the year from which data was used for the study — California public schools spent $10,291 per K-12 student, which is $1,900 less than the national average per student spent figure.
This particular issue of public education funding is not just limited to K-12 institutions. Educators in higher education have also experienced a severe lack of resources and have advocated for fairer wages and respect for the teaching profession.
On Friday, April 20, UCLA employees, students and community advocates protested and signed a petition to the office of the Dean of UCLA Extension, who reportedly plans to cut 25 percent of its workforce, affecting hundreds of workers.
UCLA Extension employees more than 300 workers who serve primarily low-income students and their families across the greater LA area.
The cuts are a result of an effort to “close an $8 million deficit which employees say results from frivolous spending by UCLA Extension Dean Wayne Smutz on high-priced consulting firms and an internal service system whose malfunctions, coupled with student fee hikes, have caused a drop in enrollment,” according to a statement from Teamsters Local 2010.