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Antonucci: LA superintendent tries to throw monkey wrench in union’s plans

Mike Antonucci | August 21, 2018

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

I’m on the record as predicting United Teachers Los Angeles will go on strike the week of October 8th. Two things have since become clear:

1) Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner is actively trying to delay the inevitable.

2) UTLA is irate about Beutner messing with its timeline.

There are a number of regulatory steps that must be taken before a public sector union can strike. The two sides are in impasse, which means they must meet with a mediator. Then there’s fact-finding, then there’s formal advance notification of the strike.

All of this takes time, and squeezing it in over the next seven weeks is ambitious, to say the least. Dragging out the process will eliminate the chance of an October strike. Beutner’s strategy was revealed when he chose September 27 for an initial meeting from a selection of dates proposed by the mediator.

UTLA could squeeze in a strike in November, but it would be far from ideal for the union. There’s Election Day to consider, then Thanksgiving. Launching one between Thanksgiving and Christmas isn’t bound to win favor with Los Angeles citizens. Wait until January? That’s a lot of lost momentum.

While Beutner is stalling, UTLA is trying to accelerate. The union sent an open letter to Beutner last Thursday.

“In response to the mediator proposing multiple dates for August and in contrast to UTLA’s willingness to meet for mediation immediately, LAUSD is refusing to participate within a reasonable time frame. This is unacceptable and indefensible,” the letter reads.

There’s another possibility, though I hesitate to mention it. UTLA repeatedly cites teacher walkouts in West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona as its inspiration. Those labor actions all had one thing in common: they were technically illegal.

Might UTLA strike without fulfilling all the requirements? Would it risk fines and legal sanctions to make its point?

I won’t go as far as to bet the ranch on that, but the possibility cannot be ignored. The two sides are nowhere close to reaching an agreement. This week, UTLA members will begin voting on whether to authorize a strike, after which union leaders can set a strike date at their discretion.

Because of their success in closing deals with LAUSD’s other unions, Beutner and the school board have misjudged UTLA’s commitment to strike. For its part, UTLA’s rhetoric — painting Beutner and board members as part of some vast privatization conspiracy — makes it difficult for the union to settle on strictly monetary terms.

This will get worse before it gets better — if it ever gets better.

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