A planned one-day work stoppage set for Friday, May 15th by United Teachers of Los Angeles in protest of impending teacher layoffs was halted by a judge’s ruling on Tuesday, May 12th.
Los Angeles Unified School District officials filed a temporary restraining order against UTLA on May 11th to prevent the one-day strike, which would have occurred on a day when the school district’s students were undergoing standardized testing.
“Time is of the essence,” Roberta Fesler, general counsel for LAUSD, said before filing the restraining order.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant issued his order in favor of the district just before 1 p.m. Tuesday, May 12th.
The one-day strike was one of several actions that UTLA, the nation’s second largest teachers union, had planned since the announcement earlier this spring after the LAUSD school board voted to authorize layoffs of approximately 4,000 teachers and administrators in an effort to close its $718 million budget deficit.
A final vote on how many teachers could be given pink slips is set for June.
Lydia Ramos, a spokeswoman with LAUSD, said that Superintendent Ramon Cortines had no other choice except to seek an injunction against the teachers union.
“We have nearly 7,000 students who will be taking standardized tests on May 15th, and there are Advanced Placement tests that will be given as well,” Ramos told The Argonaut. “Those students would have been without their teachers, which could have been a health and safety issue.”
LAUSD filed an unfair practice charge and a petition for injunctive relief with the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) on May 6th in an effort to stop UTLA’s strike. The employees board issued a complaint against the union on May 11th, alleging that UTLA has engaged in an unfair labor practice by calling for the strike.
“The unfair labor practice charge was issued against the union,” Les Chisholm, division chief at the state employees board, confirmed. An informal settlement conference between LAUSD and UTLA was scheduled to be held in Glendale May 13th.
“The PERB board may not act on our request for injunctive relief until then,” Fessler explained. “If so, there wouldn’t be time to go before the Superior Court before the start of school on Friday, when teachers plan to abandon their classrooms.
“For that reason, we have to act now.”
“The complaint is an allegation, and there will be an investigation,” Chisholm added.
UTLA President A.J. Duffy lamented the court’s ruling.
“It is unfortunate that the court ruled against our members’ democratic right to protest class-size increases and layoffs and to stand up for students,” Duffy said. “UTLA is also dismayed that LAUSD officials chose to fight our one-day strike instead of using the stimulus money to save jobs, stop the staffing chaos at schools, and keep class sizes at current levels.”
The superintendent, in a letter to UTLA and district employees, criticized the teachers union’s planned action.
“It is irresponsible for the UTLA leadership to push this work stoppage action that violates the law and the union contract,” Cortines wrote. “We value our teachers and expect them to carry out their teaching responsibilities every single day, including Friday, May 15th.”
Parents and teachers at local schools offered their opinions regarding the teachers’ aborted strike and the subsequent action taken by LAUSD.
Gail Levy, whose daughter is a sophomore at Westchester High School, questioned why the union was advocating a walkout after rejecting the offer of accepting furlough days, which LAUSD has offered as a budget compromise.
“I understand the frustration about the impending layoffs, but I think that if (the teachers) are willing to lose a day’s pay by having a walkout, it would have been much more productive to take the furlough days that LAUSD offered,” Levy said.
Heather Kahler, a Venice resident whose daughter attends Coeur D’Alene Avenue Elementary School, wondered about the money that was spent by LAUSD on paying an attorney to prevent teachers from participating in the one-day strike.
“I’m sure that it must have cost quite a bit to try and stop (the teachers’ work stoppage),” she said. “They have money for that, but not enough to pay our teachers?”
Mar Vista resident John Ayers, like Levy, thinks that UTLA leadership could have sought a different way to make its point to district officials.
“As someone who (in the past year) has witnessed fellow parents lose their jobs, take a pay cut or simply have not worked for months, it appears that the union is not recognizing the current economic climate,” said Ayers, whose children attend Beethoven Elementary School in Mar Vista. “Many people are financially hurting and it seems that (the union leaders) could find a more productive approach to help our community students.”
Westchester High School mathematics teacher Alan Brown said that by going to court on May 12th, LAUSD representatives did not give the union time to react in time for May 15th.
Nevertheless, Brown, who is the UTLA public information officer for Westchester High, feels that despite the fact that the court ruled against the teachers, there was a silver lining.
“The fact that the general public and the media are paying attention to what happened is important,” he said.
Ayers, who participated in a rally at Beethoven to support teachers when the LAUSD school board announced that it would be seeking layoffs in March, said that he tried to see the teachers’ point of view as well as that of a father.
“As a parent, I have very mixed emotions, because I personally value and completely support the good teachers we have, many of whom often work tirelessly to teach our children and go above and beyond their duties on a daily basis,” he stated. “However, I don’t support the union’s tactics of a walk-out with little consideration for parents and their children.
“It appears to be grandstanding,” Ayers added. “This strike is the wrong message at the wrong time.”
Duffy said that his union will continue to look out for the district’s teachers’ and students’ best interests.
“UTLA is committed to continue our fight on behalf of students, parents and our members,” the union president asserted.
Cortines said that he had sympathy for the district’s educators, but LAUSD and UTLA both need to make concessions in order to tackle the district budget deficit.
“I understand the frustration some teachers might feel with the district’s financial situation. But these are challenging times for all Americans,” Cortines said. “My focus is on the children and their right to an education.”