What Teacher Union Strikes Mean for Educators and Students [IEP 046]
Teachers and education workers in the second largest school district in the country, Los Angeles Unified School District, just voted to authorize their first strike in almost 30 years. In this episode, we discuss the various reasons for this potential strike, how the strike could affect the students in the district, and what demands the teachers are making.
Full show transcript at the bottom of this post.
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What We Discuss in This Episode:
- The reasons why the LAUSD teachers are striking
- Are the strikes simply regarding salaries or could classroom sizes be anther reason?
- What the district’s budget is and why they’ve rejected the teacher union’s requests despite having the financial ability to potentially meet their requests
- What affect this will have on all of the students that will be displaced (especially given LAUSD is the second largest district in the nation)
- What have other districts across the country gone on strike for?
- What role the internet has played in this activism
- Who’s really affected by the districts’ unwillingness to provide funding?
- What affect did a teacher strike in West Virginia have?
- Whether you’re for or against unions, it’s undeniable that something needs to change so this might be an only option
- School districts have money; it’s how they allocate and distribute the money that’s the issue
Read about Arizona’s strike here.
Episode discussing Colorado’s school district with shortened school weeks.
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Full Show Transcript
Vickie Brett: Welcome to the Inclusive Education Project. I’m Vickie Brett.
Amanda Selogie: I’m Amanda Selogie. We’re two civil rights lawyers on a mission to change the conversation about education, civil rights and modern activism.
Vickie Brett: Each week we’re going to explore new topics which are going to educate and empower others.
Amanda Selogie: And give them a platform to enact change in education and level the playing field.
Vickie Brett: That was a great event that we had on the 13th of September.
Amanda Selogie: So amazing.
Vickie Brett: So successful.
Amanda Selogie: Guys it has happened.
Vickie Brett: It has not happened at the time of recording.
Amanda Selogie: I mean if you’re listening at this live, it has happened. You missed it, and how dare you.
Vickie Brett: Yes, yes. It has happened, and it was great.
Amanda Selogie: I’m just kidding.
Vickie Brett: We’ll probably do a little mini intro or outro in the next couple of episodes that you’ll be hearing, whatever the timing of it is. We’re actually a week out from our event. So, lots to still do, but it’s coming along very well. We have a lot of sponsors. I mean, we’ve been talking about all the great panelists. There’s been a lot of chatter on the Facebook.
Amanda Selogie: Yeah, yeah. But remember, buy your tickets in advance. Oh wait-
Vickie Brett: Wait, it doesn’t matter. It already happened.
Amanda Selogie: I’m so in promotion mode.
Vickie Brett: No, it already happened. It was amazing.
Amanda Selogie: I don’t know when this is …. I don’t know what today is. Okay. We’re talking about things happening in the future, things when this live happened in the past. I don’t even know what day it is.
Vickie Brett: You don’t? You don’t know what day it is.
Amanda Selogie: Look, school … When the time when we were recording this schools are starting and it’s already getting crazy.
Vickie Brett: Pandemonium. But we have exciting things on the horizon. I know one of the things that is outside of this big world for Amanda and I that we’ll be doing this next weekend, or whenever you guys hear this, it’s the 23rd of September, is the Susan G. Komen Walk, which we go with a really good friend of ours who lost her mother to the battle of cancer, and we’ve done it for the past couple of years now. Always great to see another amazing nonprofit and doing things differently than we would do, but still showing our support. I think now we go to those types of events, obviously to support, but we’re also like, “Oh, this is what I would do if I was running a 5K.”
Amanda Selogie: Look, what Vickie’s trying to say is that when we go to other people’s events, we have this idea that we can do everything better. No I’m just kidding.
Vickie Brett: Listen, listen, [crosstalk 00:02:32] They are a well oiled machine. They have so many volunteers. They have so many people that are working on this year round. Like, I would never put us on that level. It’s taken them a long time to get there, but that’s also why they have the comment boxes and we can leave a comment about things. But I’m trying to think. I think last year when we went there was very … I can’t even think of one thing. I think it was more so like, “Oh that’s a good idea to have.”
Amanda Selogie: Yeah. Well, we go to so many of these. Either we’re participating or we’re having a booth or we’re a sponsor ourselves. We’ve been to enough of these where sometimes things work and sometimes things don’t work, but it’s always food for fodder. Like obviously we have not done as huge of events, and so we’re still learning ourselves. But by doing you often learn like what’s good and what is often hard. And of course, I guess, with events that size, I think how many people are usually at that one because it’s at Newport Beach, so that’s Orange County. It’s like thousands of people. There’s going to be things that go wrong.
Vickie Brett: Yeah. But they do a fantastic job. We’re looking forward to that for our weekend that’s very much in the future or in the past. But anyway, I think we have an interesting topic. This came out a couple of weeks ago.
Amanda Selogie: Yeah. When we’re recording this it’s September 5th. So, we just got done with Labor Day weekend. It was a nice long weekend and we find out that in Los Angeles Unified School district, which is the second largest school district in the nation, their teacher’s union has just voted to go on strike and it was 98% to two authorizing the strike. So this is like not just a simple majority of the union. This is like almost everybody agreed and this is the first strike that this union has had an over 30 years.
Vickie Brett: They’re obviously still in negotiation. So, they’re through mediation, which can last into mid to late October. So, I mean it’s September, I mean it just September just started, but for them to already kind of have voted and have in their back pocket. I mean it’s a trend that we’ve seen I think at this time already they’re seeing some of the blue states like Washington State school districts are on strike. Obviously some teachers in Seattle had approved of an earlier … And as follows, West Virginia, Oklahoma, I think Arizona was third. We’ll talk a little bit more about Arizona since they’re our neighbors as to what the consequences would be.
Amanda Selogie: Yeah. Well, and it’s interesting because this article, and not to get extremely political on this, but it is interesting because we have these other states, West Virginia and Arizona, we have a lot of red states that in the past couple of years have been going on strike, and now we’re starting to see some blue states. But I do see a difference in the trend with I think the red states obviously there’s fundamental changes that they’re striking about in terms of how the school system works. But I think a big part of theirs is teacher pay, whereas in a lot of the blue states the emphasis is more on the educational programming rather than just the pay.
Amanda Selogie: And we’re not experts on this, so I’m not saying that that’s the one and only difference. It’s just something that I’ve seen a little bit because this article that we found, which we’ll post, they actually went and interviewed a lot of the teachers that actually voted and asked why they had voted yes on this strike, which I guess this strike, if they don’t reach negotiations by beginning of October, then they would strike in October.
Vickie Brett: Yeah, I mean there’s 26,000, over 26,000, teachers I think that are within LA USD and it’s a big school district. This would be major. I mean, at second to New York, you know education school district-
Amanda Selogie: Really interesting because you would think as big as LS USD and the teacher’s union that falls LA USD and I think the neighboring districts that they haven’t been on strike in 30 years. But the United Teachers of Los Angeles, UTLA, is the union that is set to strike. That was created only in the 1970s, So, it’s not like it’s been around for 200 years or something like that. They’ve had their ups and downs, obviously they had some strikes, but the last strike that they had was in the ’90s where they defeated a disastrous school voucher plan. So obviously you’ve heard us on the pod talk about school vouchers and how nervous we are about Betsy Devos and her plans for that. It’s very telling that that that … That was last time was they fought on something like that and who knows, maybe they’ll need to fight on vouchers again soon.
Vickie Brett: Yeah, I’m sure. The Betsy Devos agenda has probably opened the eyes of a lot of different teachers within LA USD and I think some in different articles, some teachers were quoted saying like, “Look, pay, raise is not on our agenda.” It’s more like the school funding and the student to teacher ratio. There was one teacher that was quoted saying, “When I started teaching in 1999, the teacher to student ratio was one to 20.
Vickie Brett: I had 20 kids in my class these days because of all the cuts we don’t even have school librarians anymore. We’re teaching basic literacy.” And he’s saying that a sticking point in one of their contracts, which is an expired contract from last year, it’s like section 1.5 which allows teacher to student ratios of one teacher alone in a class, no assistance, 46 students.
Amanda Selogie: That’s insane.
Vickie Brett: That’s crazy. Like, no assistance.
Amanda Selogie: And did it say anything about … Because I know that when I’ve looked up teacher ratios school districts will have their policies, and the Cal ed code has requirements, but it’s higher up than what some school districts do. Like they can make their policies smaller. Ages usually makes a difference. K-5 should have a different ratio than middle school and high school. Was that 46? Do you know what age that was?
Vickie Brett: No, this is just one of the teachers that they had quoted giving his general … It doesn’t say what grade that he teaches in or anything like that. Just kind of gave his [crosstalk 00:08:55]
Amanda Selogie: Because I will tell you, I’ve had up to 20 kids on my soccer team and 20 running around crazy is a lot to handle. I think I’ve had some practices where I haven’t had any of our one on ones, that’s a lot. I can’t even imagine if it was the second graders
Vickie Brett: And according to Los Angeles Times … If you just google LA USD, you see that they have a budget of 7.59 billion. And so, when they were negotiating, they’d been in negotiation for over 16 months, obviously exploration. They’re all working on expired contracts from last 2017 June. The district has rejected all the UTLA’s proposals saying, “Look, we can’t fund what you’re asking for.”
Vickie Brett: But then the district also admits it has a 1.2 billion reserve. So, the teacher’s union actually believes that that’s way larger until they’re just like, “Look, you guys are stalling and we’re going try to begin this strike, at the beginning of October.” It’s interesting for the La Times to be reporting on this because, I mean it is Los Angeles, right?
Amanda Selogie: Yeah. When we talk about the strikes that happened in other states, and I think you’ve got some articles on how many days they were on strike, a lot of the other school districts in states that went on strike … We’re talking about the second largest school district. Do you know how many thousands of students that’s going to displace if they go on strike? The impact is going to be huge.
Vickie Brett: Just from the 2010 consensus there was 646,683 students enrolled in LA USD and that was eight years ago. Whereas when you’re looking at a state like Arizona, they had gone on strike this last year from April 26th to May 3rd, and their main objective was they were being not …There was low pay and obviously the cuts to school funding. That’s been something inherently that we’ve seen is cuts to school funding. And we had had a podcast talking about a district in Colorado that was going down to a four day school week and I’d never heard of that, but apparently there’s a lot of school districts out there that do that.
Amanda Selogie: Yeah, I just heard one of the other podcasts we listen to they were talking about another state that had done that, like the entire state.
Vickie Brett: Yeah, that had done it. The entire state. Obviously they were on strike and it ended in … They had different methods of demonstration. Internet activism has definitely been something that has helped reach people outside of the state of Arizona, walkouts and different occupations. And essentially what ended up happening was that it resulted in a 20% salary raise for the teachers by 2020, a 9% raise for the teachers in this academic school year, the 2018-2019, and then subsequent 5% raises for the next two years, and then increase support staff salaries.
Vickie Brett: One of the goals was to decrease the student teacher ratio, 23 to one. It didn’t necessarily result in that, but I’m sure that they saw, “Okay, this is an effective tool that we can use in the future.” I think it was Arizona’s governor that had approved the proposal for it. I mean it’s one of those things where the salaries before the walkout, so before the walkout teacher’s salaries in 2018 were between $8,000 and $9,000 lower than teacher salaries in 1990 when adjusted for inflation.
Vickie Brett: It’s one of those things where we want our teachers to be paid well. We want the students to be taught as best as they can in that environment. And I think a lot of teachers do not get paid enough, and even if you had perfect conditions, it’s already hard to be a teacher. But then working with substandard, like textbooks and equipment and then on top of that, some people that are doing it just for the paycheck and then they’re not getting paid enough. I mean, the kids are the ones that really suffer and that’s what makes it difficult. And that’s why, oftentimes we care about all children. Were they in the Inclusive Education Project?
Vickie Brett: However, with federal funding for children with disabilities, that’s why we try to focus in, especially when people are like, “Oh, you sue districts,” like, “That’s not okay. They don’t have any money.” And it’s like it’s federally funded, one. Two, what does that say about how we treat people with disabilities if we’re not trying to level the playing field? Do you want them to be at home when they could be outside working and just getting a social security disability check when they could be an actual productive member of society? Where do you want that money to go to, 3 to 18, maybe 22 or 22 to 90? There’s going to be a greater cost. That’s usually the argument I have for more fiscally conservative people.
Amanda Selogie: Well, and we see with conditions in schools, the worse they are the higher the chance the dropout rate increases. And so, if we’re seeing classrooms of 46, there’s already a high enough chance that students are going to slip through the crack. And not just students with disabilities but students of color, students from low income families, homeless students. They’re already facing so many uphill battles as it is.
Amanda Selogie: Even if they were in a supported in classroom they’re already facing battles. Then you go into a classroom that’s unsupported, they’re going to slip through the cracks automatically and just the numbers are just going to rise of how many students are dropping out of high school that even without a disability is leading to unemployment and the inability to future income and all of that and the quality of life.
Vickie Brett: And I mean, starting with West Virginia, their strike happened on the 22nd of February of this last year and essentially there was about 20,000 teachers and public school employees that were involved. There were shutdowns in schools in all 55 of West Virginia’s counties and approximately 250,000 kids were affected. So it started on the 22nd of February, ended on March 7th and it kind of spurred this movement that we’re seeing, people using their right to organize and protest and use their unions and different people being affected.
Vickie Brett: It’s like all … What is it? All the boats rise in the tide or whatever. Like everybody is helped to a certain extent, and with West Virginia it did result in a 5% pay raise for teachers. What we’re seeing with each and every different kind of state and the collaborators that are putting together the protests and the demonstrations is that they’re adding more. It’s not just about pay raises for the teachers, it’s about the school funding. We know where we need the money to go to textbooks, technology. We’re seeing the teachers I think get a bit more bold, which is great, and really put the children first which is important.
Amanda Selogie: Absolutely. We’ll check back in when it gets closer if this actually happens, but it’ll be interesting to see if the union sticks to their gun. And I think we talked about we’re going to have a pod all on the unions. We’re still building up information about it. But we’re not always for the unions but there are places for the unions. It’s a touch or go relationship. We deal with in special education law, a lot of red tape with these districts and how the school districts operate and a lot of that red tape comes from restrictions that are placed from the unions.
Amanda Selogie: A lot is on the … Law is we’ve got unions that are lobbying for and against certain laws that either we do find that there’s challenges with or again, cause that red tape. There’s a lot to be said about, you can be pro or against union, but the end of the day, what these teachers … So, it’s not necessarily just the union, I mean the union is supporting it and the union is funding it, whatnot. But the teachers themselves, like in this article, they really did speak to the teachers to really see, “Are you for this?”
Amanda Selogie: And 98% of them said yes [inaudible 00:17:21] the reason Vicky said are all across the board on making sure that our kids are getting an inappropriate education, which is what we fight for every day. It’s just, there’s different ways to go about it and this is the way the teachers are choosing to go about it. And hopefully they can … I guess my only fear, you have strikes and you have negotiations that you may have to give a lot or you may give a little. How much are they going to give to go back to the classroom because they realized that their and livelihood and these kids need to be in school?
Amanda Selogie: That’s the only hard part I see with these strikes. It needs to be done because there needs to be change. But the kids somewhat are hurting because they’re out of school. And then the union kind of has a wraparound the teachers throats in a sense because the teachers are having to balance that. Do we push for change or do we deal with what’s happening right now? These kids are out of school for how long and they’re going to have to weigh those factors.
Vickie Brett: But I think it brings the importance of what the district is doing. I’m all for unions and if you don’t like who your union rep is you can vote them out. The same thing with presidential elections, with local and state elections, they are there to serve you. And not all unions have the best wrap but you can get involved. If you’re not putting in a vote then why are you complaining?
Vickie Brett: And in California, there’s been a long history of different unions. I know in Nevada, obviously you have Las Vegas and a lot of the people, I mean I think everyone is in a union and it’s one of those things where people on average stay in their jobs, and this is food hotel, obviously Vegas, like I said, big revenue, they stay their jobs anywhere from eight to 12 years. That is amazing and it’s because their unions worked for them and they make their unions work for them.
Vickie Brett: As a teacher, they’re not sitting here and saying, “Okay, well … ” They’ve been on expired contracts for over a year and it’s come to a point where it’s just, “Look, we don’t want to hurt the kids either, but we don’t even have the appropriate funding for the right textbooks, for the right technology. We need to push this.” And yeah, I mean it’s a bummer because the school year is starting and the kids will be … LA USD started very early. They started early August, so they’ll have two months under their belts, and hopefully the strike doesn’t go on very long like it has. And it really hasn’t in some of the other states. But I think it’s also a wake up call for the district because there is no oversight in to how the budget is being done.
Vickie Brett: And sometimes people just think, “Well, that’s how we’ve always done it, so we continue to do it.” If LA USD is going to do it, it’s going to be major. I mean, they’re the second largest district in the United States. It’ll be very interesting to see how quickly the district is able to respond. But we had just last week, one of my clients is on home hospital, and home hospital is when the child temporarily needs to be outside of the school setting and a teacher minimal a one hour a day, five days a week.
Vickie Brett: And we were trying to arrange times and stuff and he was like, “Yeah. Well, I’m just going to go on strike next week.” And he works at a different agency that is employed by that particular district and it was just very interesting. This teacher’s strike or at least the vote too … I mean obviously it made news because it’s major. I don’t think there’s news about the Plumber’s Union Association that’s going to go on strike. This is affecting a lot of people.
Amanda Selogie: Well, and it’s interesting, I was just looking up … It’s interesting the the district claims that they don’t have funding for the things that the teachers are asking for, which again, isn’t all just pay. To put things into perspective the superintendent of LA USD makes $350,000 a year. I understand that the superintendent of the second largest school district in the nation is an important job and probably encompasses a lot.
Amanda Selogie: But please tell me why she deserves to make that much when teachers make so little and we don’t have music programs. We don’t have art programs. We don’t have-
Vickie Brett: Put nurses or their counselors.
Amanda Selogie: I’m sorry, but that is just ridiculous. I know that we’ve talked a lot in past pods about how we said school districts having money. So yes, right now we’re saying school teachers aren’t paid enough and that’s something that we always support because in some school districts they make a lot more than others, so there’s a discrepancy there. But you may be thinking, “Well, what is it? Which is it? Do the school districts have money or do they not have enough money?”
Amanda Selogie: These school districts, they have enough money. But you need to look at where the money is going. If you look that much money is going to the superintendent every year. Should she be making that much money? If she even took a half cut, that would still be a crazy amount of money to make for anyone and we would have so much leftover to go across the board to other areas.
Amanda Selogie: When we say that there is money, there is money, it’s just the school districts are allowed to essentially allocate where the money is going and put it in their budget. And it’s the board, it’s the administrators that get to make those decisions. And the oversight of the California Department of Education, as probably in many other states, is so minimal that we’re dealing with situations where they’re allowed to do whatever they want. And guess what they want to do. They want to put more money in their pockets.
Amanda Selogie: That’s where the money is going and, and not enough people know because a lot of people perpetuate the idea that there’s not enough money because they see low teacher salaries. But just because the teacher is not getting paid a lot doesn’t mean that the district can come back and say, “Oh, well we don’t have the money to pay that.” No, you do.
Vickie Brett: Well, so it’s interesting because there was an article just from yesterday talking about LA USD’s problem of having one in four kindergartners chronically absent, and it’s part of a multimillion dollar problem. So, basically what ends up happening is that schools get paid by the state for every child that is in school every day.
Vickie Brett: In the 2016-2017 school year, LA USD claimed that they had lost about 630 million dollars in revenue because over 80,000 students, so they’re saying like approximately 14% of all their students, were chronically absent. Chronically absent is defined as missing 15 or more days. Obviously if you’re sick, that’s about two weeks, whatever. But if you’re missing more than 15 days, and I’m sure there’s various reasons that multiple children, especially in LA USD, are missing. But essentially 630 million dollars in revenue. Are they missing out because they don’t have meals or they’re not getting to school on … What is, what is the problem?
Vickie Brett: And obviously, if they’re able to try and figure out that problem … And it’s so easy for us to sit here and say, “Oh, just pay them more. Like there’s money there. Just paying them more.” Look, I’m all for being creative with different solutions. If you want to get teachers to be working in some of these school areas and you’re going to forgive their loan, do it. They work for “free” for a year and then their loans are forgiven. I’m okay with that. It’s one of those things where you could just think of something creative to try to solve this problem. I mean, throwing money at a problem sometimes helps, but I think it’s much more. We have a bigger systemic problem, especially in LA USD.
Vickie Brett: They are massive. They have so many kids that are in their school districts. I had said in the 2010 consensus I found some other information on LA USD. In 2010 it was about 646,000. Now it’s about 734,000, and it’s over a thousand schools that LA USD is in. And if you ever look at a map, there’s some districts around us in Orange County, they have one elementary school, one middle school and one high school, or they just have their own elementary and then you have your own, … Districts are not this big ever.
Vickie Brett: And so, I get it that they have a problem and we’re bringing it to your guys’s attention, obviously food for thought. Nobody wants the schools to shut down, but nobody wants children to have not the right technology or even textbooks. I think I had read somewhere California is so low out of all the states with 40 something.
Amanda Selogie: No, we’re 46th out of 50 in education even though our GPD of the state of California is a lot bigger than the majority of countries. Yeah. That is the most ridiculous thing. I don’t know. That’s hard, but we’ll see what happens with the strike.
Vickie Brett: Yeah, we’ll keep you guys updated on that for sure. Like I said, it’s nice to see people using their right to protest and organize for progressive change, especially when it comes to our children and their future. And we will keep you guys posted about that. And this is a little bit of a different pod. We’ve had a couple, Amanda and I do in the pod who we’re getting some great guests in to the studio in the next couple of weeks. That’ll be a lot of fun.
Amanda Selogie: Yeah, and now that, at the time that this episode drops, now that our event has happened, stay tuned in the future weeks for the actual event, the live audio to be included as an extended pod. That’ll come in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out for that. And if you missed our event and you’re interested in donating to this cause go to our website. There’s a donate button. We, we do a lot to provide not only pro bono legal aid, but education for families that are low income.
Amanda Selogie: Every single one of the families that get serviced by an Inclusive Education Project is low income. They’re doing everything they can to get their kids to school and a lot of times they need help. They can’t hire an advocate, they can’t hire an attorney. So we’re really trying to help with that process and also do this podcast and do more trainings to get the word out more. We appreciate any support that you’re able to give, or you know what, if you’re not financially able to donate, just send someone information about this pod, have them start listening, and we appreciate it.
Vickie Brett: Website is iepcalifornia.org, We hope you guys check it out and check us out on Facebook and we will talk to you next week.
Amanda Selogie: Bye.
Vickie Brett: Bye.