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Teachers In Los Angeles Want More Than Wages, Garner Nationwide Attention

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Over 30,000 teachers went on strike in Los Angeles; initiating the “Nation’s Largest School Walkout” in the last 30 years, in a bid to draw attention towards wages and class sizes, here on Monday. Thousands of teachers and union activists from United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) marched on the streets of LA with full support from Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD); the second-largest public school district in US after the New York City.

The protesters demanded the state and the district to increase their pay by 6.5 percent with immediate effect and  pressurized the authorities to “fully staff” schools with librarians, counsellors, nurses and other support staff. The union demanded to shrink class sizes and assurances that the school funding would not “suffer on the hands of privatization”.

The union also demanded the district to employ staff, as pressure to increase the standardized test scores in  the last two decades has forced public schools to expend more into mathematics and reading, leading to a dearth of professional staff members. The Union urged the authorities to add additional academic counsellors at high schools, ensuring quality nursing services at elementary schools in the district, as the situation of LA was quite worse than the national average. 

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) mostly serves the working-families in the district with the aim of engaging parents and community members, to achieve 100 percent graduation and attendance rates across the district and to ensure school safety provisions were up to the mark. According to officials of the union, the annual mean wage for teachers in California was $74,940 and $75,000 respectively.  In the fiscal year 2017-18, the district had a budget of $7.52 billion and employed 26,046 teachers and 34,194 employees in other sectors, including 2,465 administrators alone.

Moreover, according to an independent report, the Union and the District over the years have failed in agreeing over a unified formula to calculate class sizes in LA, which were relatively bigger than other districts. However, the district offers to limit class sizes in grades 4-6 to 35, in middle- and high-school classes to 39 and elementary schools serving low-income children groups to 32 students only. According to the National Teacher and Principal Survey for 2015-2016, the average class size across the US varies between 16 and 28 students in urban schools, depending on different factors including grade level and organization of school.

Campaign by UTLA

This strike by the United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) is one of the largest targeted strikes in the democratic-controlled state since 1989. United Teachers Los Angeles is one of the leading representative organizations’ of certified non-administrative staff members in the Los Angeles Unified School District and has been active in the political realm, particularly advocating matters pertaining to public schools.

Governor Gavin Newsom in his interview to the Newsom expressed discontentment over the strike and urged both the school district and the union to make a deal. “This impasse is disrupting the lives of too many kids and their families and hence I strongly urge all parties to go back to the negotiating table and find an immediate path forward that puts kids back into classrooms and provides parents certainty”, he said. He also proposed a state budget that includes the “largest ever investment” in the LAUSD, which would “pay down billions in school district pension debt.”

The protest by LA teachers follow a string of other successful teacher strikes across the US over the period of time. Teachers in states including West Virginia and Oklahoma— who are among the lowest paid educators in the country — organised and participated in a strike last April, demanding higher wages and improved education amenities for students.

Teacher Salaries in US
Statistics highlighting the changes in Teacher Salaries in US between 2010-17

Prior to negotiations, the average annual mean wage for a teacher in West Virginia and Oklahoma were $45,240 and $42,460 respectively which increased after the success of the protest. According to CNBC, the major difference between teacher strikes in Oklahoma and West Virginia with strikes in LA is political in nature. While the latter were seen as important “battlefields” in 2018 midterms, “California is overwhelmingly Democrat”, the newspaper reported.

This protest has succeeded in garnering attention Nationwide with support pouring over by the general public, educationists, Hollywood writers, Democrat politicians in the state legislature and even Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York).

“What you’re seeing with unions is real enthusiasm and a belief that you can actually be successful,” Robert Bruno, professor of labour and employment relations at the University of Illinois said in his interview to Associated Press. “The educational sector is rife with deep grievances and frustration, but there’s now a sense that you can actually win”, he added.

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