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Antonucci: I was wrong about the LA teacher strike date; here’s why

Mike Antonucci | October 9, 2018

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

If you lost your ranch, I apologize.

Back on July 31, I predicted with confidence that United Teachers Los Angeles would strike in October — more specifically, the week of Oct. 8, this week. And while there are still a few days left in the week, and a few weeks left in October, it looks as though UTLA is committed to waiting out the entire impasse procedure before walking out.

“There is a legal process that we are respecting, meaning we don’t strike until after the fact-finding report,” wrote UTLA bargaining chair Arlene Inouye in response to a Facebook post.

UTLA and the district have had two mediation sessions so far, and a third is scheduled for Friday. There is no limit to how long mediation can last, but once the mediator decides it is fruitless to continue, and that fact-finding is appropriate, either side can request it, and then the clock starts.

Each side has a maximum of five days to select a representative to the fact-finding panel, and a maximum of five days after that the state Public Employment Relations Board selects a chairperson. The three-person panel then has a maximum of 30 days to submit a non-binding report. That completes the process. The district will then be free to impose its last offer, and the union will be free to strike.

Even if the fact-finding process commences immediately after Friday’s session, it might be Thanksgiving before a strike can be legally called. The latest rumors are that UTLA will wait until January before initiating the strike.

I thought I had accounted for the entire process when I made my prediction, but there were details of which I was ignorant.

State law says that after being appointed, the mediator “shall meet forthwith with the parties or their representatives.” If “forthwith” is a word you don’t use regularly, it is defined as “immediately; without delay.”

Clearly UTLA thought that’s what it means, because union officials have been complaining for weeks about the 56-day wait between the appointment of a mediator and the first mediation session. What I didn’t know, and still can’t find a basis for in state law or PERB regulations, is that the district was allowed to unilaterally choose the date of the first mediation session from a PERB list.

Mediation does not necessarily have to be a long, drawn-out process. In fact, the mediator is empowered to call for fact-finding as early as 15 days after his appointment, which would have been a date in mid-August.

But ignorance is no excuse. If I had checked, I would have noticed that PERB appointed a mediator in Oakland at the end of May, and the first mediation session didn’t occur until Aug. 31. The district and the Oakland Education Association are still in mediation, and have two more sessions scheduled for Wednesday and Oct. 23.

I am still confident that a Los Angeles teacher strike will occur, based on the obvious lack of positive movement toward a settlement. The district’s last “insulting” offer of a 3 percent increase and an additional 3 percent if financial conditions permit, is in line with the agreements it has made with its other unions. In January 2017, UTLA asked for a 7 percent raise retroactive to July 2016. Its last offer reduced that to 6.5 percent. That’s not much movement in almost two years, which suggests the union is not inclined to split the difference with the district.

I have examined 58 recently concluded teacher contract agreements in California, and in only six cases did the union receive a wage increase of 6.5 percent or more. Each of those covered a period of one to three years, and none was retroactive to 2016.

The bones of a deal are there. The district would have to remove the conditions on the second 3 percent, and punt on its three-year financial forecast, while the union would have to forget about raises retroactive prior to 2017. If the money issues are settled, the others will fall into place or be held over as fodder for the special school board election in March.

Short of a complete fold by LA Unified, the strike will come first. I won’t make a second prediction as to when, except to repeat that soon after payday, which is the fifth of each month, will maximize the amount of time teachers can remain out before feeling any financial pinch.

If a strike doesn’t happen, I’ll be as happy as anyone — happy enough to write another apology with a smile.

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