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Union rejects deal giving laid-off teachers preference over veteran substitutes

October 8, 2009 | 12:12 pm

The governing body of the Los Angeles teachers union Wednesday night overwhelmingly rejected a deal negotiated and signed by their president that sharply reduced work opportunities for veteran substitute teachers by giving preference to recently laid-off teachers.

The vote was nearly unanimous at the meeting of the House of Representatives for United Teachers Los Angeles. The union’s governing body took up the matter after teachers at seven of eight regional meetings opposed the deal that UTLA President A.J. Duffy signed in July with the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Under the one-year “side letter” to the teachers contract, some 1,800 teachers laid off on July 1 jumped ahead of veteran substitutes with more seniority to fill roughly 2,200 daily substitute assignments in the nation’s second-largest school system.

In an interview before the vote, Duffy said he would honor the will of the membership, but that he had no unilateral authority to rescind a signed contract. He said he would enter into negotiations with L.A. Unified.

A district spokeswoman said district officials haven’t yet decided how to respond.

More than 150 subs gathered at their own meeting Wednesday where speakers, including veteran substitute Stuart Chandler, denounced both the deal and Duffy, who had campaigned for office as a defender of substitutes.

“The most effective way to characterize him is as a backstabber, a Benedict Arnold,” Chandler said. “That’s really what we’re talking about -- betrayal.”

Duffy appeared briefly before the subs, asserting that he made the deal to provide stability to minority and low-income children at schools heavily staffed by less-experienced teachers who lacked sufficient seniority to avoid being laid off. Talking above cries of “Impeachment!” and “He sold us out!”, Duffy said he had wanted laid-off teachers to continue teaching their former students — although the subtitute assignment system has not automatically placed laid-off teachers in their former schools. Duffy said he also wanted to provide an incentive for the next generation of teachers to remain with the school system until they could be rehired.

The subs said they were not only furious about losing their jobs, but also about a lack of disclosure. Duffy did not release information about the July agreement until September.

He also did not include a representative of the substitutes in the negotiations, as required by internal union rules, said Mike Dreebin, a former full-time teacher who now represents union retirees.

Duffy pledged to include representatives of the substitutes in upcoming talks.

Veteran subs lose their health benefits if they don’t work at least one day a month and a total 100 days for the year. A break in benefits also could deprive some of the opportunity to earn benefits in retirement.

Full-time teacher Heather Kolodny said she sympathized with the laid-off teachers, but sided with the veteran subs on this issue: “The subs have been our colleagues for a number of years. They’re our friends.”

She added that regular teachers feared a potential erosion of their own rights. “We’re all really scared,” she said. “We’re feeling attacked, too.”

-- Howard Blume

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