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L.A. teachers approve contract as layoffs loom

June 18, 2009 |  7:06 pm

Teachers have accepted a new contract that includes no pay raise for last year, this year or next year, but will allow them to take formal contract grievances public.

The leaders of United Teachers Los Angeles had insisted to members that they could do no better on salary issues during tough economic times, and the membership responded, even though the union's governing House of Representatives strongly opposed the deal.

In the final tally, 81.4% of union members voted yes, with about a third of the 48,000 members  casting ballots. The vote should not be read as a statement of contentment: Earlier this year, nearly three-fourths of teachers who voted endorsed a one-day strike to protest pending layoffs and increasing class sizes that are scheduled to take effect July 1. UTLA canceled the strike when a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge issued a restraining order.

Just before the balloting on the contract, union President A.J. Duffy sent members an automated phone call that made no mention of salary issues but lobbied for the pact, while also urging members to pressure district leaders to bring back all teachers. More than 2,500 could be laid off as of July 1.

Some civic leaders have been pushing UTLA to accept temporary compensation reductions as a way to limit layoffs. Union leaders have proposed instead that L.A. Unified use as much of its federal stimulus money as necessary this year to save jobs now, even if that creates precarious finances for the following year.

District officials are scheduled to take up new budget-cutting measures next week, but those   cuts aren't expected to result in additional teacher layoffs.

Other touted elements of the deal include: new contract language meant to enforce better safety conditions at schools, more say for teachers in teacher-training efforts and a panel to study how to make teacher salaries more competitive.

Even amid the layoffs, the district is hiring teachers in some areas. This week, the district estimated that it needed to hire 108 math teachers, 100 science teachers and 130 special education teachers.

The contract agreement concludes a complicated and hard-fought process that began in spring 2007, just after a deal for a 6% raise. The union and district couldn't agree on salary and other issues for the 2007-'08 year and 2008-'09 year. Meanwhile, the state economy deteriorated. The new pact closes out issues stretching back to July 1, 2007, and will be in effect until July 1, 2011.

Both the union and district will be able to reopen some issues, including salary, before the expiration of the new contract.

-- Howard Blume

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