The new leader of the Los Angeles teachers union signaled a more militant stance toward the school district, including the possibility of a strike, at a national teachers union convention held downtown this weekend.
Alex Caputo-Pearl, who took office July 1, characterized a work stoppage as a potentially effective part of broader social action to benefit students as well as their instructors.
His remarks drew cheers at the weekend convention of the American Federation of Teachers; in an interview, L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy also sought to reach teachers, urging them to agree to terms similar to those achieved by other employee unions in the nation's second-largest school system.
Caputo-Pearl, 45, spoke at a Saturday-night panel with other teachers union leaders, including Michael Mulgrew from New York City and Karen Lewis from Chicago. Lewis, who sat to the right of Caputo-Pearl, led Chicago teachers on a 2012 strike, an experience for which she was celebrated at the convention.
The new L.A. union leader framed his remarks around defining "social movement unionism," which he said is "explicit about fighting for racial and social justice. It's explicit in fighting against privatization. It's explicit in taking people on who need to be taken on, including a lot of Democrats."
He added: "It's a unionism that is willing to strike. It's a unionism that is willing to build to a strike and strike if that's what we need to do."
Caputo-Pearl added that he'd already advised members by letter to begin putting aside savings for a possible strike. He also announced a major internal reorganization within United Teachers Los Angeles and signaled his intention to seek higher member dues to make the union a more effective political force.
UTLA is seeking a 17.6% raise over "multiple years."
Teachers have not received a raise for seven years, several of which included temporary pay cuts and layoffs.
Deasy and L.A. Unified have settled with most other unions; the terms typically include a 2% bonus and raises that would increase pay by about 6.6% over three years. The first 2% boost took effect July 1.
Teachers could anticipate a similar deal, Deasy said. He defended the settlements as generous, saying the district also is prepared to absorb rising healthcare and pension-fund expenses, which the district has estimated to cost the equivalent of a nearly 10% raise over three years.
During his remarks, Caputo-Pearl stressed that the union must fight for justice within the community, whether or not the issue directly affects teachers. He cited an example of a local activist allegely beaten by police who was then charged with assaulting officers. Teachers took part in an alliance that led to the dropping of charges, he said.
Even with contract negotiations, Caputo-Pearl said, the union has to "bargain for the public good."
Caputo-Pearl criticized a superintendent, but it wasn't Deasy. The union leader recounted his battles with the administration of former Supt. Roy Romer, when Caputo-Pearl was a teacher and local union leader at Crenshaw High School in Hyde Park.
When the balky sound system emitted a screech, Caputo-Pearl quipped: "The spirit of Roy Romer is in the room."