Los Angeles teachers vote on contract deal with school district

 Los Angeles teachers vote on contract deal with school district

By Steve Gorman and Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The union representing Los Angeles teachers reached a tentative contract agreement on Tuesday with the second-largest U.S. school district, paving the way for classes to resume for nearly a half million students after a weeklong strike.

About 30,000 striking teachers will vote on Tuesday afternoon on the deal, which would last through the 2021-22 academic year. If they back the agreement, teachers would return to work at the city's more than 1,200 schools on Wednesday morning.

The deal accedes to many of the union's demands, implementing an immediate 6 percent pay raise for teachers, compared with the union's call for a 6.5 percent increase. The agreement also would reduce class sizes and hire more librarians, nurses and counsellors, a pillar of the union's position during five days of negotiations that ended at dawn on Tuesday.

Alex Caputo-Pearl, the president of the United Teachers Los Angeles union, told a celebratory rally of thousands of teachers outside City Hall that they had achieved victory in the city's first strike of its kind in three decades.

"It is very rare that you go to the bargaining table with as many demands as we had and you win almost every single one of them," Caputo-Pearl told the crowd.

The leadership of the district - an independent body that does not answer to the Los Angeles mayor - had said throughout the talks that they largely supported the union's goals but did not have enough money to cover the demands.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who took office earlier this month, took credit for providing funding that helped set the stage for a deal. Before the strike began, Newsom pledged $140 million in new funding to Los Angeles Unified.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who mediated the talks, announced the agreement at a news conference with Caputo-Pearl and Austin Beutner, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Beutner became a target of criticism from teachers by resisting their demand that the district use its roughly $1.8 billion reserve to raise their salaries and improve conditions at schools. He said the reserve was needed to avoid insolvency in the face of rising pension and healthcare costs.

MORE NURSES, LIBRARIANS

The tentative contract agreement calls on the school district to hire 300 more nurses by the 2020-21 academic year, and union officials said that would put a nurse at every school, as they had demanded.

Education funding in California is based on daily attendance. By Friday, the strike had cost the district about $125 million and collectively cost students more than 1.5 million days of instruction, according to Beutner.

Beutner noted that New York City spends more than $20,000 per public school student per year compared with $16,000 in California.

"That's an opportunity gap," Beutner said.

Union supporters, and even school district officials, have credited the striking teachers with helping reawaken the public and politicians around the country to widespread difficulties facing schools in California and elsewhere.

Teachers staged walkouts over salaries and school funding in several U.S. states last year, including West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona. In contrast to those states, the Los Angeles teachers faced a predominantly Democratic political establishment more sympathetic to their cause.

Labor tensions are still simmering in other big-city school districts. The teachers' union in Denver held a strike authorization vote on Saturday after rejecting a contract offer. Results will be announced on Tuesday.

Teachers in Oakland, California, were also expected to vote on whether to strike later this week.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman and Alex Dobuzinsis in Los Angeles, additional reporting by Jonathan Allen and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Scott Malone, Susan Thomas and Cynthia Osterman)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Updated Date: Jan 23, 2019 05:05:22 IST