The LA teachers got almost all of their demands, with more strikes on the horizon across the nation.
Over the last week, thousands of teachers and support staff across Los Angeles protested after contract negotiations between their union and the LA Unified School District’s representatives failed to come to terms.
Building for months, the tension finally erupted over a dispute in salary increases, need for support staff, class sizes and teacher rating systems. Per the Los Angeles Times, teachers wanted a 6.5 percent increase in salary over three years, smaller class sizes and more librarians, custodians and counselors. The school district voiced concerns about raising salaries over 6.5 percent, teacher tenure and long-term budget fixes. LA Unified claimed that the proposed changes the teachers wanted would cost $750 million while their proposals would only cost $450 million.
Without any agreement, the strike went into effect on Jan. 14, with nearly 30,000 teachers and support staff picketing through the streets of LA and outside LA’s Department of Education. California, like Oklahoma, funds districts based on students’ daily attendance, so many parents withheld their students from attending schools in an effort to support the teachers and add further pressure on the district.
On January 22nd, after a single school week, the district lost $125 million and, after a marathon 21-hour negotiating session mediated by the city council, the teachers won nearly all of their demands. This included a six percent raise and further funding for support staff as well as a gradual decrease in class sizes over three years.
The teachers’ union cited their success based on past teacher strikes in last year’s “Red State Revolt,” the title given to the education protests in conservative states across America. Oklahoma, the second state to go on strike last year, encountered similar issues. Jill Andrews, an AP English teacher from Claremore High School, claims that the issues in Oklahoma stemmed from “10 years ago” when the state began stripping teachers of “smaller classes and money for extra books.”
Slowly, as the state legislature took away essential resources from teachers and unions, the breaking point finally hit when State Question 779, an amendment that proposed a sales tax of one percent to increase education funding by $615 million, failed to pass a state referendum.
Teachers across Oklahoma sprung into protest with Andrews, claiming, “It was really just a perfect storm.”
Andrews remembers being “exhausted” and undergoing “one of the hardest things I’ve done — both physically and emotionally.”
However, Andrews points out that, although they were successful in getting a raise, the Oklahoma legislature continues to issue “retaliatory bills” and “legislators refuse to look at capital gains.”
Oklahoma possesses political roadblocks that limited success compared to California: the number of students wanting to be teachers has significantly dropped, ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) still retains massive influence and unions have been gutted severely by legislation. However, Andrews remains optimistic for the future with “so many teachers and women” elected in 2018 across Oklahoma.
Oakland and Denver’s teachers’ unions, feeding off the momentum from LA’s success, will also go on strike later this week and in early February if talks do not progress with their respective school districts.