An interview with Arlene Inouye, chair of UTLA’s bargaining committee
By Ari Bloomekatz
Mediation between the Los Angeles Unified School District and United Teachers Los Angeles failed in mid-October, and now we’re closer than ever to seeing 33,000 educators walk off the job and strike for better pay, smaller class sizes, and substantive investments in student health among other services.
“The district thinks they can buy us off with a modest pay raise, but our fight has never been just about salary,” UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said in a statement. “What’s driving educators is the absolute need to fix what we see every day: too many overcrowded classrooms where kids have to share desks, schools with a nurse only one day a week, and overloaded psychologists and counselors doing their best to triage the socio-emotional needs of our students.”
UTLA members say they also want to reduce the number of mandated standardized tests, hold charter schools accountable, improve school safety, and ensure that public education in L.A. is sustained for the next generation.
Both the LAUSD and UTLA are of course claiming the other negotiated in bad faith. And the next step in the process after mediation is fact-finding — the Public Employment Relations Board will assemble a three-member panel (the board appoints the chair and both the union and the district get a seat) that will issue a report and recommendations. After this report is made public, the choice is to either accept the recommendations, or LAUSD can offer their last and best final offer, or the union will strike.
According to the Los Angeles Times, that process could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.
The two sides have been negotiating for around a year and a half and if there was ever any question if the 33,000-member UTLA was ready to strike, that notion was shattered right as the school year began when an unprecedented 83 percent of United Teachers Los Angeles — roughly 27,000 of 33,000 total members — voted almost unanimously (98 percent to be specific) to authorize a strike if negotiations ultimately proved futile.
“After 17 months of bargaining with LAUSD, educators are frustrated and angry,” Arlene Inouye, chair of the UTLA bargaining committee, said at the time. “We want a district that partners with us — not fights us — on critical issues like lower class sizes, fair pay, and bringing more staff to work with our students.”
I sat down with Inouye in September to talk about the prospects of a strike and how UTLA was preparing and able to get so many members on board.