L.A. teachers union wins dues increase, vows to battle foes of traditional public education

The rallying cry went out from the leaders of Los Angeles teachers’ union: We need more money to fight the rich and powerful forces that want to take over public schools.

Members have responded by agreeing to raise their annual dues by about a third, to $1,000 a year.

The increase was approved by 82% of those who cast ballots, according to United Teachers Los Angeles, which tallied the votes Wednesday.

Union President Alex Caputo-Pearl said the additional money is needed to fight well-funded opponents, including foundations and wealthy donors who have sought to reduce teacher job protections, limit union fundraising and spur the growth of nonunion charter schools.

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“As billionaires are trying to cripple unions, our vote sends a national signal that educators are willing to invest more in our unions and in the fight for educational justice,” Caputo-Pearl said in an interview.

His sales pitch included reminding members about a proposal to move half of L.A. students into charter schools over the next eight years. The fate of that plan, developed by the locally based Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, is uncertain. But charter schools continue to rise in number; L.A. Unified has the most of any district in the nation.

Charters are independently operated and exempt from some rules that govern traditional schools. Unions and other critics assert that charters serve fewer students who may be more difficult or more expensive to educate because of serious disabilities, behavior problems, lack of fluency in English or other issues.

But charters have proved popular with many families.

For the union to make a counter case, it must do more than unite teachers behind what’s good for themselves, UCLA education professor John Rogers said.

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“They also need to forge deep and ongoing relationships between teachers and the communities they serve,” Rogers said. “And they need to push for conditions that support the well-being and development of youth inside and outside of schools.”

Well before the vote, UTLA had used a one-time grant from affiliated unions to hire an organizing director, researcher, community outreach specialist and field organizers.

Such resources helped the union win a favorable contract settlement — including a 10% raise, said Caputo-Pearl. The money from higher dues will allow the union to keep these workers and add other key personnel, he said.

UTLA is about to enter negotiations with the L.A. Unified School District over class sizes and school staffing levels for nurses and counselors. Also on the table is how teachers will be evaluated.

Most of the union’s 32,000 members are teachers, but UTLA also represents school nurses, counselors and psychologists.

The turnout, just over 50%, was high for a UTLA vote, and might partly reflect the increasing number of teachers who cast ballots online.

The vote also gave the union, for the first time, the authority to pass on the cost to members when affiliated unions, such as the National Education Assn., raise the fees they charge UTLA.

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Editor’s Note: The Times receives funding for its Education Matters digital initiative from one or more of the groups mentioned in this article. The California Community Foundation and United Way of Greater Los Angeles administer grants from the Baxter Family Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the California Endowment and the Wasserman Foundation to support this effort. Under terms of the grants, The Times retains complete control over editorial content.

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UPDATE

6:54 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information.

This article was first published at 2:50 p.m.

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