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Antonucci: School unions gearing up for strikes, political campaigns

Mike Antonucci | March 20, 2018

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

The Los Angeles Unified School District is going to have its hands full dealing with employee contract issues, if the smoke signals emanating from local unions are any indication.

SEIU Local 99, which represents some 30,000 LAUSD education support employees, is currently holding an all-member strike authorization vote. The polling ends Friday, March 23. The results should be known shortly after.

We can expect the vote to be overwhelmingly in favor, not just because the rank-and-file members may want to strike, but due to the way SEIU’s leaders are framing the vote.

“A yes vote means we’re fighting to make sure the District values our work and negotiates in good faith. A No vote means we’ll take the 2% [the district has offered],” reads the union’s Facebook post from March 13.

If there were any doubts about which way the union wanted the members to vote, it was dispelled by two members of the SEIU bargaining team in this short video report.

“Voting against the strike means you are satisfied with whatever LAUSD offers,” states the bargaining team report.

That doesn’t leave much room for members who may be unhappy with the LAUSD offer but don’t want to strike.

Meanwhile, United Teachers Los Angeles is also preparing Los Angeles teachers for a possible strike. “To give maximum support to our bargaining team in this process, we must be strike-ready by May,” wrote UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl in his latest message to members. “In April and May there will be crucial actions in our escalation, actions in which every single member of UTLA must participate to exert maximum pressure.”

Extreme measures call for extreme motivation, and Caputo-Pearl isn’t shirking. “At its core, our contract campaign is about the survival of public education in Los Angeles,” he wrote.

He was backed by other UTLA officers. Secondary Vice President Daniel Barnhart used school shootings to promote the union’s bargaining positions by claiming “our contract can make schools safer.” Among UTLA’s demands are to have nurses, psychiatric social workers, deans, and restorative justice advisers in every school. “The district has not agreed to this demand,” he reported.

While local unions manage strike preparations, their state parent unions began to muster forces for political campaigns to come. The California Federation of Teachers is holding its convention this weekend in Costa Mesa and will host Tony Thurmond, its endorsed candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

And you may have already seen or heard the ads from the California Teachers Association, highlighting the value of the state’s public schools, stating, “We are educators who know quality public schools build stronger local communities and make a better California for all of us.”

CTA typically runs these generic, feel-good ads prior to their campaigns for specific candidates or ballot initiatives. This year we can expect a CTA media blitz in favor of the Schools and Local Communities Funding Act initiative, which would end Proposition 13 property tax protections for commercial and industrial businesses with more than 50 employees. The tax revenues raised would go to public education funding. The measure is in circulation and must gather 585,407 signatures by August 20.

All this activity makes sense from the union point of view. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME should come by the end of June, and if, as expected, it doesn’t go in the unions’ favor, membership losses in California and elsewhere will soon follow. Favorable contracts and new sources of school spending embedded in the state constitution will help cushion the blow immensely.

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