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Antonucci: Fact-finding panel is finally seated; UTLA prepares for a January strike

Mike Antonucci | November 19, 2018

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Mike Antonucci’s Union Report appears weekly at LA School Report.

The contract dispute between LA Unified and United Teachers Los Angeles entered its final phase as the three-member fact-finding panel was finally seated last week. The panel now has 30 days to submit a non-binding report of its recommendations, after which the district may impose its final offer and the union may strike.

There is no danger of UTLA striking before the holiday break. The union has already informed its members that the strike will occur in January if no agreement is reached, though it has not settled on a specific date.

In its communications, LA Unified is sticking to its message that it supports much of what UTLA wants in terms of class sizes and additional staff, but that the increased spending will drive the district into bankruptcy. The district continues to balk at union demands for further restrictions on charters, magnets and testing.

A flyer that UTLA has distributed and posted on its web site details the union’s action plan.

On Dec. 4 and 11, UTLA members will boycott scheduled faculty meetings and use that time to phone students’ parents to inform them “about the issues and invite them to the December 15 March for Public Education.” On Dec. 6, members will hand out leaflets to parents at school sites.

The weekend of Dec. 7-9 students and teachers will participate in a “strike prep art build” in which banners, posters and picket signs will be constructed for use during the march and strike.

These actions will culminate in a large-scale march from Grand Park on Saturday, Dec. 15.

After the Dec. 15 march, classes will not resume until Jan. 7, but despite the statutory deadline, it is not 100 percent certain that the fact-finding report will be issued by then. It is a good sign that the panel is composed of highly experienced individuals.

There was the usual squabbling about naming the chair of the panel. UTLA rejected out of hand three names submitted by LA Unified. The state Public Employment Relations Board picked David A. Weinberg, founder of his own arbitration firm. He served for 17 years as a mediator for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

LA Unified selected Adam Fiss to represent the district on the panel. Fiss is an attorney for Littler Mendelson, the largest labor representation firm for employers in the nation.

UTLA chose Vern Gates as its representative. Gates works for the California Teachers Association’s Negotiations and Organizational Development Department. If there is any reason at all for optimism, it is that Gates served on a fact-finding panel in Torrance last May.

Gates and the Torrance district negotiator were able to reach agreement on most issues outside of the panel’s deliberations. They left only one — the school calendar — to be addressed by fact-finding. The chair applauded the “diligence” of Gates, which ultimately brought negotiations to a successful conclusion.

Of course, the distance between district and union is much greater in Los Angeles than it was in Torrance. If Gates can bridge that gap, he deserves to be called a miracle worker.

UTLA’s public actions will dominate the news cycle for the next month, but the panel’s findings will determine the validity of the district’s financial projections. If the report supports the district, it may have a nominal effect on public perception, but it won’t dissuade UTLA from carrying out its own plans.

At this point, it’s hard to see where the bargaining part of collective bargaining has gone.

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