In Partnership with 74

Analysis: LA Unified still waiting for an opener from UTLA

Michael Janofsky | May 19, 2014

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UTLA logoConspicuous by their absence from last week’s school board meeting were representatives from UTLA, the teachers union, discussing a new contract.

While many of the labor partners who work with LA Unified have begin contract talks or submitted their opening proposals, UTLA has maintained radio silence. At least, that’s how it appears to the public.

The only outward suggestions that union officials have been thinking about their demands was President Warren Fletcher’s pronouncement that he wants a 17.6 percent raise for his teachers, who have been without a contract for quite a few years.

Two problems here: One, the union never stipulated whether the demand is for one year, three years or 17 years. Two, Fletcher is a lame duck, who’s three-year term in office ends June 30.

As the in-coming chief, Alex Caputo-Pearl can’t do anything officially until he assumes power on July 1. Meanwhile, he has been meeting privately with school board members, presumably to exchange ideas of what’s possible in a new contract.

There has been lots of talk that recent improving economic conditions could mean a windfall for the union. The state is sending more money to the district through local control funding, another $1 billion or so over the next seven years. The biggest chunk comes right away, 28 percent, with smaller amounts over the succeeding years.

During UTLA’s recent campaign season, many of the candidates for president stumped for higher pay and a return of RIF’d teachers. But Gov. Brown’s announcement last week that higher than expected tax revenues mean more money for local school districts was buzz-killed by his proposal to pay down $74 billion in teacher pension debt, starting with a first payment of $450 million through increased state and teacher contributions.

In net-net terms, where does that leave UTLA prospects for a big boost in take home pay? Maybe somewhere between unlikely and bleak.

The district is in the process of filling in the blanks to complete the 2015 budget by June 17. Some of the biggest blanks are labor costs. Gradually, some are being filled in, based on opening proposals and negotiations from other unions. UTLA is not among them, and the timing may not bode well for its members’ starting the year with a new and improved contract.

That’s partly because of Fletcher’s status and Caputo-Pearl’s start date, which coincides with the first day of the new fiscal year. Or it could be part of a union strategy to begin putting pressure on the district to throw in more dollars — or else — and everybody knows what the or else is.

More than likely for UTLA, the new school year starts by looking a lot like the old school year. Without a new contract, the old pay levels remain in place.

As a campaigner, Caputo-Pearl made no secret of his willingness to strike if teachers don’t get a fair deal. Is that still his strategy? Recent efforts by LA School Report to reach him by telephone and email were ignored. So for the time being, it’s a guessing game.

Superintendent John Deasy, whose responsibility it is to finalize a budget, said he was waiting, too. But he also said he was eager to get started.

“My door is wide open,” he said in an interview. “I’m looking forward to building a strong, collaborative relationship with him. The district needs Alex to be a successful and strong leader, and as for the union, it matters more.”

The board moves into closed session tomorrow, and part of the agenda includes an update from Deasy on negotiations with the district’s labor partners. UTLA is listed among them. For now, it doesn’t sound as if he’ll have much to report.

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