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Analysis: LAUSD offer to UTLA a march to progress or a strike?

Michael Janofsky | December 5, 2014

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UTLA rally at James Monroe High School Nov. 20, 2014

UTLA rally at James Monroe High School on Nov. 20, 2014

LA Unified’s latest offer to the teachers union, UTLA, represents either a hint of progress in negotiations for the teachers’ first contract in more than seven years or fertile ground for moving toward a strike.

Here’s why the uncertainty: The 6 percent package includes the same salary increase that the district has offered all its other bargaining units —  2 percent, and for just one year.

It also includes the same lump sum payout of 2 percent for last year that was included in previous offers. The sweetener is an additional lump payout of 2 percent for next year, with an offer to negotiate the out years, starting with next year.

Depending on what the sides might agree upon for 2015-2016, the sweetener is, indeed, a bonus. It becomes something less than that if the raise for 2015-2016 fails to reach 2 percent. The district calculates that every 1 percent increase amounts to $24 million in spending, which makes the 6 percent package equal to $144 million in budget impact at a time the district says it’s facing a $326 million deficit.

For some teachers, the district offer may present a quandary. Here’s a hypothetical: A teacher making $70,000 now would receive this year a bonus of $1,400, a retroactive pay raise for this year equal to $1,400 and a bonus of $1,400 for next year — a total of $4,200.

That represents a 6 percent bump for this year but only a 2 percent floor in any ongoing salary negotiations for future years.

The district is asking for immediate acceptance, leaving the union’s spectrum of other demands for subsequent negotiations. “Salary adjustments” for 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 would also be left to future bargaining.

How enticing is the district’s offer? That’s a question every teacher would have make for herself or himself, and each answer is predicated on how badly someone wants or needs an additional $4,200 for the year. No doubt, individual family budgets might influence some decisions.

Negotiations resume on Dec. 16, and that session should provide a strong clue as to the possibilities for the union’s prospects: achieving a better deal or closing the distance to a strike vote.

Bear in mind, Alex Caputo-Pearl and his leadership team have spent months working toward creating unity and a mindset for a strike. The union’s latest demand remains a 10 percent salary increase for this year.

That leaves the union and the district still 8 percent apart on salaries, even with the offer of some Christmas money hanging in the air.

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