With a strike deadline only a day away, union teachers and the Los Angeles Unified School District remained deadlocked Saturday on the issue of pay increases and leaders of both sides said a strike now appears likely.
Wayne Johnson, president of United Teachers-Los Angeles, said the chances of a strike on Monday now are “99.9%" and that “it would take a minor miracle” to avert one. School board President Roberta Weintraub said, “I am going to assume that on Monday morning a strike will occur.”
As a result, both sides continued to prepare for a strike. The district signed on more substitute teachers Saturday, as union picketers angrily shouted outside. At union headquarters, hundreds of teachers scooped up strike signs and flyers and huddled over tactics they hope will bring the nation’s second-largest district to a standstill.
The divided school board held an emotional private meeting for three hours Saturday, but members were unable to agree on raising the previous pay offer of a guaranteed 21.5% increase over three years, with the possibility of going to 24% if the district gets more state funds.
The union again rejected that offer, but for the first time said a three-year agreement would be possible.
Johnson said he would “be very interested in” an offer that would use state surplus revenues to give teachers a 10% raise retroactive to last July, when the last contract ended, a guarantee of a 5.5% raise for the coming year, with a formula to go up to 9% using any state surplus next year, and a further 8% raise in the third year of a new contract. The previous union demand was for a 21% raise over two years.
A majority of the board is unwilling to gamble a settlement on expectations that a rise in state revenues could bring the district between $34 million and $60 million in extra funds, Weintraub said.
Plans for Cuts
The board has already agreed to cut as much as $120 million from other programs to fund its latest offer and is divided over whether to make deeper cuts, she said.
“Fundamentally, the question was whether the board was willing to make those additional cuts,” Weintraub said. “And there are four board members against it . . . so the board will hold with its present offer.” She would not identify the members.
Negotiators for both sides were in telephone communication through the day but early morning optimism vanished by evening. Weintraub said that no meeting of the school board was scheduled for today although members were available if the situation changed.
Union officials said it would be difficult to call off a strike if there was no settlement by 6 p.m. today. But they said they would be willing to keep in contact with district officials.
Johnson characterized as “a con job” the board’s offer to stick to 8% for this year and to apply all state surplus funds to the second year of a contract. According to the union chief, the non-monetary issues could be settled easily.
“It’s the money,” he stressed, that is blocking a settlement.
Critical of Board
Johnson criticized political divisions within the school board. “The internal fighting (on the board) is making it more difficult for us to reach a settlement,” he said. And Johnson repeated charges that the existing school budget, even without the expected state surplus, could afford the pay increases teachers want.
School board members Julie Korenstein, Warren Furutani and Jackie Goldberg hurriedly left the private session shortly after lunch, waving off reporters’ questions. Board member Alan Gershman, who left later, said only that “we’re talking.”
“They feel very strongly and each member shared their feelings,” said district spokeswoman Diana Munatones of the session. “Each member is agonizing over this whole process.”
Earlier in the week, hopes for a settlement were raised by speculation in Sacramento that tax revenues would be $750 million higher than expected and that the Los Angeles school district could get some of that. The board has agreed to use 60% of that money to raise teachers’ salaries above its current offer.
However, the size of and uses for that surplus are being debated. State lawmakers may require that much of the extra money be used for only for textbooks and maintenance, not salaries.
Gov. George Deukmejian is expected to announced his revised budget by the end of the week. A state fact-finder is scheduled to issue a report on the labor dispute Wednesday.
Weintraub said the board majority concluded that additional state funds “have to be a certainty” before they will increase the district’s offer.
Union Vice President Helen Bernstein said the district could shift other funds even if the state surplus comes with strings attached. “It’s time to take a risk. It’s time to be a little creative,” she said Saturday.
Union sources suggested that both sides are seeking face-saving ways to postpone a strike. One scenario would have teachers delay a strike, even without a final settlement, if district Supt. Leonard Britton would drop his demand that teachers turn in student grades on Monday or face withholding of last month’s pay. It was that order that led the union to move the strike date from May 30 to Monday.
But other people close to the situation said that it is unlikely that the board would order Britton to reverse his order, even though some board members think the action was ill-timed.
Plea to Students
Weintraub urged the district’s 595,000 students to attend school Monday. She said that although the district has not found as many substitutes and administrators as it needs to maintain regular classes during a strike, “we will do our best to maintain order and safety in the schools.”
Between 500 and 600 people have answered the school system’s call for substitutes, said Michael P. Acosta, a personnel administrator. The district has about 32,000 teachers, counselors, librarians, nurses and psychologists and about 17,000 of those voted to strike.
On Saturday, the third day of recruiting substitute teachers, union teachers set up picket lines outside district headquarters and shouted at people coming to apply to work as substitute teachers. There were no arrests.
“Scab! Scab! Scab!” two dozen sign-holding teachers shouted at a car crossing the line.
One teacher boomed out: “About this time Monday, you are going to wish you hadn’t done this. Don’t take my job.”
Another picketer took pictures as people crossed the line.
Inside, one woman said she was not prepared for the sidewalk confrontation. “They got kind of nasty,” she said. “This was completely unexpected. I had, like, no time to psych myself out for it.”
Month of Vacation
Ike Michaels, 27, who said he is a financial analyst, said he was going to take a month of vacation to teach during the strike in order to keep inner-city students off the streets. “I’m a strong believer in education and politics shouldn’t be brought into it,” he said.
At union headquarters, hundreds of teachers showed up Saturday for pre-strike planning sessions and to pick up picket signs, flyers, buttons and tee-shirts.
In gearing up for the financial trauma a strike may bring them, teachers received some good news Saturday. Under threat of a union lawsuit, the district dropped its threat of stopping payments on health insurance and its demand that teachers start paying $270 monthly premiums on their own. According to union president Johnson, federal law requires the district to keep up insurance coverage for at least 60 days.
One meeting at union headquarters was for the many provisional teachers who are teaching while earning their state credentials. The district hires more than 1,000 of these instructors each year to help ease its teacher shortage. However, many feel the strike puts them in a precarious position because they need good recommendations from administrators to become permanent teachers. Union leaders urged provisionals to join the picket line, saying any settlement will include a clause protecting them, as was the case in the agreement ending the 1970 strike.