At union rallies across L.A., teachers seek more than just a pay hike

Los Angeles teachers rally on Thursday at Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights. They are seeking a 10% pay increase and more control over policies to improve schools.
(Howard Blume / Los Angeles Times)

More than 500 teachers union members and supporters gathered late Thursday afternoon at Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights to rally for their contract demands.

The Eastside site was one of five where the union held events across the sprawling Los Angeles Unified system.

The demonstrations were intended to make a statement about union solidarity over contract demands. United Teachers Los Angeles is seeking a one-year, permanent 10% raise, while also putting forward an agenda on staffing levels, classroom conditions and policies aimed at improving academic results.


District officials, including Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, have said that the union is seeking more than the nation’s second-largest school district can afford. District and union representatives have met several times since Cortines took over on Oct. 20 from Supt. John Deasy, who resigned under pressure.

Deasy, who was unpopular with most teachers, had been the focus of previous union rallying efforts, a factor cited by Deasy when he talked of possibly resigning several months ago.

Cortines, who was also Deasy’s predecessor, returned from retirement when Deasy left. In the past, Cortines has not been as polarizing a figure as Deasy, but the union made it clear Thursday that it was not satisfied by Deasy’s departure.

At the plaza, Roosevelt High teacher Mariana Ramirez acknowledged that Cortines has apologized for the problems caused by a new and faulty student records system, but added that an apology isn’t enough.

“We don’t want apologies,” she said in Spanish. “We want at least a district that won’t sabotage the dreams of its youths.”

The records system, called MISIS, caused havoc across L.A. Unified this fall, leaving officials scrambling to make sure students got the courses they need for graduation and college applications.


Ramirez also referred to the district’s former $1.3-billion plan to use school construction bonds to provide an iPad to every student, teacher and campus administrator.

The school community, she said, doesn’t want “technology geared toward robotically testing students rather than stimulating them to learn.”

While the district plans to use newly purchased computers for state standardized testing, it also hopes to integrate them into classroom instruction. The effort has slowed down and devices other than the iPad now are being tested.

With Deasy gone, the Board of Education has become a direct target.

“We want to create a new era of quality education for all students,” said Erika Ponce, an 11th-grader at STEM Academy of Hollywood. “The school board has turned a blind eye to our needs.”

Having students participate was seen as important because union President Alex Caputo-Pearl has spoken frequently of putting together a community coalition that would work together to improve schools. Testaments to that goal permeated the remarks of speakers, but this particular event was overwhelmingly attended by union members.

“As professionals we need to claim back our right to say we know what is best” for students, Eagle Rock Elementary teacher Kirk Thomas told the boisterous crowd.


Union proposals also call for a full-time nurse at every school five days a week and increased counseling staff — nurses and counselors belong to the union — as well as a “dramatic reduction” in class sizes.

In addition, the union wants the district to exert more oversight over independently managed charter schools, most of which are non-union. And it wants to include teachers and parents in fixing new discipline policies that have exacerbated behavior problems at many schools.

Twitter: @howardblume