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Antonucci: LAUSD support employees union claims it can hold ‘sympathy strike’ with UTLA

Mike Antonucci | December 11, 2018

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

With no hope of a settlement in sight in the contract dispute between LA Unified and United Teachers Los Angeles, attention has turned to the conduct of the expected teacher strike in January.

The district distributed a “family resource guide” to parents to help them prepare for the strike. The union distributed “strike kits” to its chapter leaders as well as a script to use when making phone calls to parents to solicit support for the strike and ask them to attend the union’s march on Dec. 15.

“It’s about saving public education from billionaire outsiders who want to privatize public education,” reads a section of the pitch.

Other LA Unified employee unions that have already reached contract agreements with the district are nonetheless supporting the teacher strike. Union members are allowed to show solidarity with other striking unions when they are not on work hours. The California School Employees Association went a step further when it notified LA Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner that it has the right to hold its own “sympathy strike” or work stoppage.

In his Nov. 21 letter to Beutner, CSEA labor relations representative Alexander Moore cited state Public Employment Relations Board rulings that sympathy strikes are allowed unless a contract’s no-strike clause has a “clear and unmistakable waiver” of that right.

“It is CSEA’s position that, absent any extrinsic evidence from the District showing a ‘clear and unmistakable waiver,’ the right to sympathy strike is not waived under the general no-strike clause in the parties’ current collective bargaining agreement,” wrote Moore.

A similar issue arose last May when UTLA announced plans for a sympathy strike in concert with a planned one-day walkout by SEIU Local 99. UTLA’s contract has a no-strike clause, but clearly the union’s attorneys planned on using the PERB ruling to defend its actions. SEIU 99 reached an agreement with the district a week before the scheduled strike, so UTLA’s claim was never tested.

CSEA’s no-strike clause is more restrictive than that of UTLA. The union’s collective bargaining agreement states, “During the term of this Agreement, neither CSEA nor its respective offices or representatives shall urge, call, sanction or engage in any work stoppage, slowdown or other concerted interference with normal District operations for any cause whatsoever.” (emphasis added)

The union will certainly argue that sympathy strikes are not specifically mentioned, but the plain language of the clause would seem to head that off. In the end, it may not matter. The district may find it cannot enforce the no-strike clause.

Labor Notes cited an instance involving University of California hospital workers and a sympathy strike. The reporter noted that “the union got pro-union state legislators to visit the picket lines, and they told UC not to touch anyone who was on strike or honored a picket line. In the end, no patient care sympathy strikers were disciplined.”

Additionally, Moore warned the district it must collectively bargain with CSEA “any decision or effects resulting from strike preparations.”

LA Unified is in a bad spot with only two obvious exits. Since UTLA has made no new proposals for a settlement since July, the district can either fold completely or ride out a strike until a third party intervenes. Either option portends an influx of additional funds from the rest of the state, so keep an eye on your wallet.

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