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Antonucci: This week, LAUSD and UTLA raise the curtain on their theater of mediation

Mike Antonucci | September 25, 2018

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

Representatives from the Los Angeles Unified School District and United Teachers Los Angeles will meet with mediators on Thursday to see if some settlement can be reached in contract negotiations.

That’s the textbook description of what will take place. In this instance, mediation is nothing more than a required procedure before a public employee union can legally strike. Neither the district nor the union has given the least hint of what it might do to make mediation successful. In fact, UTLA has made it clear that it wants the process over and done with.

Hardly a day goes by without a union official criticizing LA Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner for putting off the first mediation session until Sept. 27. UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl called the delay “a slap in the face.”

Beutner could have chosen a date as early as mid-August, but by waiting he put a severe crimp in the union’s strike timeline. UTLA is now in acceleration mode, briefing its activists last week that it will push for a minimum number of mediation sessions and urge the mediators to move to fact-finding as quickly as possible.

Fact-finding is the final step in the pre-strike process and the most time-consuming. It could take up to 40 days before a non-binding report is issued, after which the district has the right to impose its last offer, and the union has the right to strike.

That would place the strike somewhere between Election Day and Thanksgiving, which isn’t ideal timing for the union. While UTLA continues to profess its commitment to the legal process, it also tosses out occasional hints about other actions it may take.

Caputo-Pearl called Beutner’s delay on mediation a refusal “to act in good faith.” Those words have a specific meaning in this context, because acting in bad faith is a basis for an unfair labor practice charge, under which a union could possibly strike. Indeed, Caputo-Pearl mentioned that the union may be forced to file additional charges in the near future.

“The law regarding contract bargaining is, unfortunately, designed to advantage employers, string things out, allow for delays, and cut against the organized momentum of unions,” he wrote in a message to members.

UTLA site representatives across the city will meet Oct. 3 to discuss strategy and distribute materials. This may be the basis for the Oct. 3 strike date rumor that was being passed around in union and district circles earlier in the month. My guess is this was the original date set for finalizing strike details and handing out picket signs, etc., but that Beutner’s choice of mediation date undercut this plan.

LA Unified has faced difficult labor negotiations all year. SEIU Local 99 also threatened to strike before ultimately reaching a deal with the district. But the situation with UTLA is different, mainly because it’s virtually impossible to negotiate when those on the opposite side of the table are on a crusade.

UTLA bargaining chair Arlene Inouye gave an extensive interview with Jacobin, which describes itself as “a leading voice of the American left, offering socialist perspectives on politics, economics, and culture.” Those who think Caputo-Pearl’s rhetoric is over the top should take a look at this.

Inouye claims the goal of the privatizers who she says hold sway at LA Unified is mind control. “They don’t want young people these days to have critical thinking skills and to challenge authority,” she said. “The big picture is that corporations would love to control the minds of our kids so that they don’t resist the authoritarianism that pervades this society.”

Before you start sending your kids to school with tin foil hats, note that Inouye isn’t overlooking the benefits to the union. “Strikes make the union and the public education movement stronger,” she said. “They change people, they change the union, and they can change the future.”

Her view is typical of the entire UTLA leadership. While trumpeting their battle against the forces of evil, their message to members has its practical aspects.

“Members of all of these stripes in UTLA in 1989, in Chicago in 2012, and in Arizona this year struck without retaliation and with financial gain, not financial loss,” Caputo-Pearl wrote.

“Look at teachers in West Virginia and Arizona,” states one of the union’s strike FAQs. “They didn’t legally have the right to strike, yet they struck, they won, and no one got in trouble. Not a single probationary teacher has ever had any retaliation for past UTLA strikes.”

Daniel Barnhart, UTLA’s secondary vice president, focused on the union’s class size reduction demands in contract negotiations. He stated that if the district hired 2,000 more teachers to meet this demand, it “would lead to a bigger UTLA, with the potential for even greater strength.”

The stage is being set, and the show will go on. As with most theatrical productions, the audience will determine how long a run it will have. The difference is you won’t pay for this performance until after it is over.

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