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Los Angeles teachers are a step closer to a potential strike after mediation with district ends

Los Angeles teachers are a step closer to a potential strike after mediation with district ends
Mediation got nowhere between L.A. Unified and the teachers union, headed by Alex Caputo-Pearl. He appeared last week alongside leaders of other unions at a news conference near downtown to press the union's demands. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

The union representing Los Angeles teachers moved one step closer to a possible strike Friday after ending mediation sessions with the L.A. Unified School District.

Union officials accused the district of “failing to offer any substantial proposals to reinvest in our schools.”

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For its part, district leaders announced that they had filed a complaint with a state oversight board. They allege that the union has failed to negotiate in good faith and that any strike would therefore be illegal.

The union “has trounced through the impasse procedure in bad faith, in order to have cover to initiate a strike,” trying to “shortcut the process and achieve its bad faith objectives,” according to the district filing with the Public Employment Relations Board.

The filing also accused the union of making “histrionical demands that the mediation process wrap up quickly.”

The two sides had three sessions with a professional mediator, starting Sept. 27 and ending Friday.

The district is offering teachers a 3% raise retroactive to July 1, 2017, plus an additional 3% retroactive to this past July. The second half would not be permanent unless the county certified the district as financially healthy for the length of the agreement. The district has settled with most other employee unions on terms similar to these.

The teachers have asked for a 6.5% raise that goes back an additional year, to July 1, 2016.

The dispute goes beyond wages.

“The district thinks they can buy us off with a modest pay raise, but our fight has never been just about salary,” UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said in a statement. “What’s driving educators is the absolute need to fix what we see every day: too many overcrowded classrooms where kids have to share desks, schools with a nurse only one day a week, and overloaded psychologists and counselors doing their best to triage the socio-emotional needs of our students.”

L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner said he also would like to increase staffing and offer larger pay raises but that the district can’t afford it. Meeting the demands of what the union calls its last, best and final offer, Beutner said, would bankrupt the district within a year.

The official complaints on each side are piling up before the Public Employment Relations Board.

L.A. Unified also filed an earlier PERB complaint alleging bad-faith bargaining. And the union said it has filed three complaints, including one accusing the district of trying to smear Caputo-Pearl’s reputation.

The next step in the negotiation process is fact-finding. PERB will assemble a three-member panel. The board appoints the chair, and the district and the union each get to appoint one member. The panel will issue a report and recommendations. The process could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

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