Bitter Charges Signal a Longer School Strike : Accusations of Lying Mark Start of Second Week as Teachers Hold Rally; District Police Arrest 11
With accusations of lying flying back and forth, relations between the two sides in the Los Angeles teachers’ strike reached the boiling point Monday as thousands of teachers rallied and 11 union leaders and supporters were arrested later outside district headquarters.
Sources said it is increasingly likely that the strike, entering its second week Monday, may not be resolved until after school board runoff elections June 6 and could last the rest of the school year. The last strike in 1970 lasted 23 days.
“I’m not holding up much hope at the moment,” school board President Roberta Weintraub said.
Helen Bernstein, a vice president of United Teachers-Los Angeles, the teachers’ union, called the standoff an “absolute disaster for Los Angeles. I don’t know if we’ll ever have school again this year,” Bernstein said.
She was among 10 adults and one juvenile who were arrested on suspicion of trespassing Monday afternoon after they allegedly attempted to cross school district police lines at district headquarters downtown. Those arrested included two other UTLA vice presidents and the secretary and treasurer of the union. The union charged school district police with brutality in the arrests, an allegation that was denied by the district’s officers.
Meanwhile, the two sides exchanged the harshest rhetoric since the strike began, most of it over whether or not the district had indeed put a better offer on the table.
According to school board member Jackie Goldberg and other sources, negotiators for the school board on Sunday had offered teachers a three-year contract with guarantees of 8% raises each year, regardless of how much the district may receive in new state funds. Such a contract offer would be a significant advance from an earlier offer, in which the raise in the middle year ranged between 5.5% and 8%, depending on the availability of state money.
“It was eight, eight and eight, with no formula,” said Goldberg, who had acted as a go-between in the labor dispute. “No ifs, no contingencies, nothing.” Goldberg said she decided to violate a news blackout on the latest negotiations and reveal what had taken place because “I believe the people in the city have a right to know.”
The union had privately indicated that it would accept such a 24% increase. Union official Bernstein said a lot of figures were mentioned during the bargaining but an offer of 24% was never formally made. Goldberg, she insisted, was not present during the sessions.
Union leaders claimed that the offer was still tied to the state windfall. They also said the district refused to make concessions on teacher pay docked for job actions and on the issue of sharing decision-making at schools.
UTLA President Wayne Johnson, in a bitter speech to about 7,000 teachers at a Sports Arena rally, called district leaders and negotiators “desperate, despicable people” and said of the board’s money claims: “They are lying, they are lying, they are lying.”
Johnson ridiculed Weintraub for what he claimed were naps as long as two hours she took during bargaining sessions. “We finally made a condition that Roberta had to be awake and at the table,” he said.
Asked about those charges, Weintraub said in a telephone interview:
“I have no comment on anything like that. If I were really to reveal what went on in those sessions . . . about the language used by the other side. . . .” She declined to be more specific, citing the news blackout, but added that “Mr. Johnson has made it impossible to bargain.”
Symbolizing how quickly the situation had changed in a day, the union held its massive pep rally Monday in space it had rented to vote on a new contract.
At a press conference Monday, school Supt. Leonard Britton insisted that the district had increased its pay offer during weekend negotiating. Of union charges to the contrary, Britton stated: “You will have to choose which one of us is lying.”
Britton said talks collapsed after union leaders refused a package that the board was told would be acceptable.
Board members Julie Korenstein and Warren Furutani proposed a settlement package Monday which Goldberg confirmed was identical to one offered by the district Sunday. The package, among other things, included a provision that the district reimburse teachers for about half of the wages they were docked last winter for failing to report student grades for the fall semester. The rest of the wages lost during job actions before the strike could be made up by working extra hours.
The proposal also called for the membership on school management councils, which would decide such things as school discipline, to be evenly divided between teachers and district appointees. In addition, elementary school teachers would have 40 minutes a day for preparing lessons and be paid for voluntary schoolyard duty.
Union leaders said the non-monetary proposals are unacceptable because they do not give teachers enough power in deciding school issues.
Britton said that no talks are scheduled with union leaders and the district is prepared to weather the strike “for as long as it has to.” The district is continuing to recruit and hire substitute teachers and the state mediator who was called into the talks over the weekend has returned home, he said.
The district saved about $12 million in salaries during the strike last week, money that could be used as part of a final contract settlement, Britton said.
UTLA spokeswoman Catherine Carey said the union will return to the bargaining table immediately if the offer of 24% is formally made.
Current starting pay for Los Angeles teachers is $23,440 and the top is $43,319, although that amount can be raised by extracurricular and summer school duties.
At the campuses, student attendance and the number of regular teachers at work both increased Monday, the district said. But it was clear that about half the students and two-thirds of the teachers remained out.
Morning rolls found 293,482 of the nearly 594,000 district students in attendance. That was 34,362 more than on Friday, which had the lowest attendance of last week, possibly because youngsters wanted a three-day respite from substitute teachers and makeshift educational programs.
The number of regular teachers at work increased by 654 Monday, to 9,314. The union said such attrition was expected and that the numbers of its strikers remains above 20,000 of the 32,000 regular teachers, nurses, counselors and librarians. The number of substitutes jumped by 74, to 2,527, the district said.
Some board insiders speculated Monday that the district may not be back to normal until two school board seats are decided next month and the board members inaugurated July 1. Up for reelection in runoffs are Korenstein, who has union backing in her West San Fernando Valley district, and Alan Gershman, who is facing a union-backed challenger in the race for his Westside seat.
The school board met for about an hour Monday morning and then canceled its usual public Monday afternoon meeting. Several hundred strikers rallied in front of the building housing the offices of O’Melveny & Myers, the district’s law firm, and at the district’s office about five blocks away where the arrests were made. Among the protesters’ chants was “Wake up, Roberta,” another reference to Johnson’s charge that Weintraub napped during talks.
UTLA spokeswoman Carey accused district police of using “excessive force,” saying Frances Haywood, a union vice president, was thrown onto a district police car and handcuffed when she and the others tried to enter district headquarters to express outrage over the stalemated talks. In addition to Bernstein and Haywood, other union officials arrested were Vice President Nina Greenberg, Treasurer Betty Karnett and Secretary Deborah Harrison.
School Police Chief Wesley Mitchell, denying that his officers used excessive force, said: “I am confident that the officers handled themselves in a very professional manner.”
Police said the arrested demonstrators were released later in the day on their own recognizance.
Contributing to this story were Times staff writers John Mitchell and Tim Waters.
MOOD GROWS DARK--The mood of students and teachers grows dark in second week of strike. Part II, Page 1