Signs late Monday night pointed to a probable settlement of the Los Angeles teachers’ strike, but not in time to get teachers back into classrooms on Tuesday.
Settlement or not, teachers are expected to picket and rally — either to continue their walkout or to celebrate its end. If an agreement was reached, they would need time to vote on it.
Both sides reported that talks were productive. They just hadn’t moved as fast as hoped — forcing the first L.A. teachers’ strike in 30 years to move into a sixth school day.
The first major sticking point was the contract itself. If this were a normal negotiation, without an ongoing strike, the parties might have been able to take a few days off to work out some details or ponder next steps. That was not really an option.
But talks were going reasonably well Monday, said L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is serving as mediator with his staff since negotiators went back to the table last Thursday.
“We have been working tirelessly to reach an agreement and have made tremendous progress with five days and more than 50 hours of negotiations at City Hall,” Garcetti said Monday afternoon. “The parties are still at the table, and I am optimistic that we have the momentum to take those final steps toward bringing our teachers and young people back into their classrooms.”
The school district, in its afternoon message, also wanted to send a positive message — about the effort its side had put in.
“Los Angeles Unified has been working around the clock over the past days and weeks to solve the outstanding issues with UTLA,” Supt. Austin Beutner said in a message sent by phone and email to families and by phone to staff, including employees on strike. “While we remain in contract negotiations, UTLA has informed us that they will continue to strike tomorrow even if a contract agreement is reached today.”
That last part was interpreted as a dig by the union side, which has reacted angrily to several past Beutner statements.
The district’s message also emphasized that schools would be open Tuesday, just as they were during the first five days of the strike.
That means that for one more day at least, skeleton crews of administrators, a small number of substitutes and non-teaching employees will watch over campuses. Fewer than a third of students came to school last week.
The union also reported progress in an update to members on Monday.
“The two sides were bargaining until late last night and have been bargaining around the clock since Thursday,” the update said. The picket lines would remain, however, because “we will need to ratify the [tentative agreement] before we end the strike.”
Some parents (and even some union members) said they would prefer for the union to suspend the strike while they voted, so normal school days could resume. But union leaders were not willing to take that step, which could effectively end the strike whether or not members approved the contract.
The union said it has systems in place that could allow for a vote “over a period of hours.”
“Our members voted 98% to authorize a strike, and when we end the strike it will also be up to our members,” the union update said.
At City Hall, negotiators went back to work at 9:15 a.m. Monday after long bargaining sessions every day since Thursday.
Union leaders urged the rank and file to make a continued show of force by showing up in large numbers at the city’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade, which began at 11 a.m.
Garcetti canceled his planned appearance at the parade and at two other events related to the holiday.
The Board of Education also would have to ratify a deal. But that was expected to happen quickly. The school board has a meeting scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday, although it’s not clear if the board could ratify a pact without providing advance public notice on its agenda.
If the two sides failed to resolve the remaining sticking points Monday, teachers, their students and the city could face another week of the walkout.
The union has strike-related events lined up for Tuesday: a 6 a.m. march with firefighters, followed by a news conference and then a rally and march moving from City Hall to school district headquarters.
The two sides have been close on salary for some time, with the district offering 6% spread over the first two years of a three-year deal and the union wanting 6.5% all at once and retroactive to a year earlier.
Union President Alex Caputo-Pearl, however, has framed the negotiations as being about the future of traditional public education in Los Angeles and beyond. This has translated into demands for smaller class sizes and schools “fully staffed” with nurses, librarians and counselors, who also are union members.
Caputo-Pearl also has called for a moratorium on privately operated charter schools, most of which are non-union. Charters compete with the district for students and the state funding that follows them. L.A. Unified has more charters than any other district. About one in five Los Angeles public school students now attends a charter school.
Charter school law, however, is made at the state level, so the union’s agenda on charters cannot be realized at the bargaining table.
Beutner has insisted that many other demands also cannot be satisfied for financial reasons. He said often that he agreed with the union’s requests to shrink class size and improve staffing, but that the district can’t afford to pay for all of the additional positions.
An improved state budget seems almost certain to provide some extra revenue to L.A. Unified, and some have expressed hope that state funds could help bridge the gap to a deal.