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Veteran substitute teachers win back seniority rights in L.A. Unified

November 19, 2009 |  8:41 am

Veteran substitute teachers in Los Angeles will get more work and a shot at keeping their health benefits after the teachers union approved an agreement restoring their seniority rights.

The agreement approved Wednesday night puts back in place a system that gives the most experienced substitutes the first shot at jobs when regular teachers call in sick within the Los Angeles Unified School District. That traditional system had been altered in June under a one-year pact between district officials and A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, the district’s teachers union.

That pact gave priority in substitute assignments to former full-time teachers who had been laid off July 1 because of budget cuts. About 1,800 laid-off teachers signed on as substitutes; the district uses about 2,200 substitutes per day. The specifics of the deal, which came to light two months later, caused immediate outrage among veteran substitutes and also among many full-time teachers. They said they objected both to the treatment of their part-time colleagues and to the idea that seniority rights could be so easily and quickly abrogated.

Duffy insisted that he signed the June pact to benefit district students. The laid-off teachers would have incentive to remain with L.A. Unified as substitutes, he said, stabilizing school staffs that were subject to massive turnover because of the layoffs. But Duffy also said he would abide by the decision of the union if it wished to restore seniority.

When UTLA’s governing House of Representatives did just that in October, Duffy asked the school district to reopen negotiations. After some initial resistance, the district agreed to tear up the June deal. And last night, the union’s House of Representatives overwhelmingly ratified the restoration of seniority.

The laid-off teachers are still likely to get work because full-time teachers can request any substitute by name. The veteran substitutes now hope there’s enough time and opportunity for them to work at least 100 days this year -- that’s the minimum required to earn health benefits.

Overall work opportunities are down for a number of reasons: the larger pool of substitutes, larger class sizes (and thus fewer classes), fewer year-round schools and shrinking enrollment.

For now, at least, the veteran substitutes are celebrating.

“This is a landmark decision,” substitute Audrey Linden wrote in an e-mail.  “A handful of substitutes, since the end of August, worked diligently without ceasing and we got back the rights for all the substitute teachers.” She added: “I will not complain about being woken up at 5:30 a.m. ever again.”

-- Howard Blume

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