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L.A. Teachers Vote on Union Plan for for One-Day Strike

April 24, 2009 |  4:32 pm

The union representing Los Angeles teachers is organizing for a possible one-day strike next month to protest looming layoffs. The work stoppage would have to be approved by a majority of teachers, who will be able to vote over a several-day period, starting today.

Last week, the Los Angeles Board of Education, by a 4-3 vote, approved a budget package that could result in more than 5,300 job losses, including about 3,500 teachers who lack tenure protection.

"We must act before the layoffs are finalized," states information posted on the web site of United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The district "will be making important decisions in the coming weeks as the budget picture becomes more clear. Now is the time to make a strong statement."

The tentative plan would be for teachers to picket outside their schools on the morning of May 15, then meet at one or more central locations for an afternoon rally. Demonstrators would protest against increased class sizes for students as well as the layoffs. Rallies against layoffs--outside of school time--have been taking place across the nation's second-largest school system, including a raucous gathering Thursday night at the Roybal Learning Center, west of downtown.

The union's strategy consciously hearkens back to one-day strikes in 1983 and 1987, which current union leaders credit for helping to win favorable contract terms. Some among UTLA's top echelon, including president A.J. Duffy and vice president Joshua Pechthalt, were notable footsoldiers during an era of activist unionism in the 1980s and early 1990s, which culminated in the teachers strike of 1989.

Regarding this year's layoffs, the union's position is that L.A. Unified still can slash more "fat" from the bureaucracy and also can use more money from arriving federal economic stimulus dollars.

Union leaaders defend a spend-more-now approach by asserting that the money is intended to save jobs and that the current crisis deserves priority.

The district has opted to spread incoming (and temporary) federal aid across two years, because the school system also faces budget woes in 2010-2011. Officials also have taken a more cautious approach in part because the state's fiscal health could continue to deteriorate.

As for the bureaucracy, district officials have so far moved forward with plans to eliminate more than 1,200 positions in the central and regional offices. How much more the district can and should cut remains a subject of debate.

All the key players are working to reduce the number of layoffs, but have different ideas on how to do it. The union has so far rejected district suggestions of wage concessions, but other unions have indicated they might accept unpaid furlough days.

-- Howard Blume 

Howard Blume is twittering about the LAUSD budgeting process. Follow his updates @howardblume.

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