By The Prophet of Life
Most labor strikes are over wages and working conditions. A just concluded labor strike in the United States was about things way beyond salary. In fact, it was for things way beyond a typical labor contract.
The strike in question took place in Los Angeles California, Los Angeles Unified School District. United Teachers Los Angeles, the teacher’s union there was not striking over wages (the district already agreed to their salary demands in their best and final offer). They were on strike to ensure that every school in the district gets a full-time nurse, guidance counselors and librarians. Finally, they wanted class size reductions.
Los Angeles Teachers were off the job for an entire week. They had been picketing in front of every one of the 1100 district schools. They marched on District offices and Charter School Headquarters. 50,000 people clogged downtown Los Angeles streets and marched to LAUSD headquarters. The district has about 30,000 teachers. The other 20,000 people were mostly parents and students.
It is not unusual for teachers picketing and marching to be assaulted with honking horns from cars passing by. The drivers of these cars were everyday people, public bus drivers, firemen and policemen. The strike was supported by the people in many of the communities the teachers taught in because the district had cut a lot of counseling, nurse, librarian and support staff positions and raised class size.
In fact, most district schools only have a nurse just one day a week. Counseling caseloads range from a low of 500 to a high of 900 students per counselor. Elementary schools in the district don’t have librarians but they do have libraries. The district only allows smaller class sizes in core academic classes and this is mostly due to a state law requiring it. A few years ago, the district got a temporary waiver from the union to increase the class sizes but the district decided to make the increase permanent without the agreement of the union. There are classes in the district that are so jammed that there aren’t enough chairs for students and some have to stand for an entire semester.
The district has been undergoing takeover battle with corporate run charter schools. The schools can, under the law, use classrooms, resources and electricity in LAUSD public schools without paying a penny to compensate LAUSD. The district lost over 200,000 students to Corporate Charter School and Charter interests have funded LAUSD School Board candidates, as well as other local and statewide political offices, spending millions of dollars on those elections. The current LAUSD School Board is dominated by a pro charter majority.
The new LAUSD Superintendent, a former investment banker, is holding onto the district’s almost $2,000,000,000 (2 billion dollar) reserve. He is telling the public that the district needs the money to offset bankruptcy yet he is surrounded by new hires who reorganized other public school districts into all charter districts (like the New Orleans school district for example). Some say he is touting a plan to break the district into 26 mini districts with all of the beaurocracy & expenses associated with such a maneuver. It has been said that mini districts would be easier to charterize than the entire second largest school district in America.
After six days of picketing and giving up 30% of their monthly salary, striking teachers in Los Angeles may have achieved their goal. A deal has been struck which gives teachers the raise they wanted, lowers class size, provides more nurses, counselors, librarians and other support staff and gives teachers, parents and students more of a voice in their public education at the district.
Public education in America has been underfunded for years. There have been a good many teacher strikes in the past year, mostly over wages. Most were successful but didn’t achieve the total increase the teachers struck for. In Oklahoma for example, a large number of teachers quit the profession when the strike ended without providing a raise in salary. However, many of the open state legislature seats up for grabs were won by former striking teachers and in Oklahoma’s case, money will eventually be raised for teachers through a tobacco tax.
Starting teacher salaries in The United States range from a low of just above $30,000 in Montana to a high of close to $52,000 in New Jersey. Teacher salaries differ because in many red (Republican majority) states. A good number of these states are called “right to work” states. In Right to Work States, teachers do not have collective bargaining rights and teacher salaries are set by state legislatures.
The Los Angeles Teacher’s Strike has garnered national and even international attention. Pressure from the city’s mayor and state’s governor forced the district back to the negotiating table. UTLA called their strike the fight to save public education. The fact that 30,000 teachers struck and gave up 30% of their monthly salary solely to force the district to provide things for students that they should be providing already has people all over America thinking that this could be the strike that caused a change in the national consciousness.
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