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Teachers union governing body urges rejection of proposed pact

April 2, 2009 |  5:40 pm

The House of Representatives for the Los Angeles teachers union rejected on Wednesday night the contract negotiated by union leadership. The proposed settlement will still go before rank-and-file members of United Teachers Los Angeles, who will have the final say on whether the deal is approved.

The proposed settlement retains the endorsement of union officers and the Board of Directors, said union president A.J. Duffy.

The rejection by the governing body adds one more complication to the budget puzzle in the Los Angeles Unified School district. The Board of Education this week voted to cut more than $140 million to balance this year’s general fund of nearly $6 billion. But $600 million in cuts for next year remain on the table, and they could result in the layoffs of thousands of employees.

District officials hope that the tentative deal with teachers would create some breathing space for them to deal with the budget and other contentious issues.

Duffy praised the settlement as including significant positives: It would establish a procedure for faster resolution of safety-related issues and would allow the union to go public with grievance filings that are still in progress, among other provisions.  And, he added, the pact avoids negatives: It includes no unpaid furlough days and bars the district from punishing any teacher who boycotted standardized periodic assessments of students, which many teachers consider a waste of time and money.

The tentative agreement is silent on salary matters, leaving unresolved whether teachers would receive a pay raise, a pay cut or no change in wages for last year, this year and next year. Approving the proposed settlement would allow union leaders to focus instead on saving the jobs of about 6,000 members who received notice that they might be laid off as part of district budget cuts and restructuring, Duffy said.

Warren Fletcher, an English teacher at City of Angeles School, said he voted “no” for tactical reasons related to the same fight to save jobs.

“If we disarm, if we no longer have the option of a job action -- a strike -- that sends a terrible message in L.A. Unified,” Fletcher said. “And we are sending a loud message to Sacramento that defunding Los Angeles schools is something that can be done safely.”

Duffy said he sees only two alternatives: passing the deal or going on strike.

Fletcher and others argued that new negotiations — with the threat of the strike — could begin if the membership joined the union's house in rejecting the pact.

UTLA declined to release the official vote total, but those present reported that the endorsement failed by 15 to 20 votes out of more than 160 that were cast.

An earlier agreement, overwhelmingly approved by membership, safeguarded most provisions of the current health benefits package for three years.

UTLA represents about 48,000 district employees, including teachers, school psychologists, counselors, nurses and librarians.

--Howard Blume