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UTLA candidates debate big issues — including idea of a strike

Vanessa Romo | February 19, 2014

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Coming our way?

Coming our way?

Presidential candidates in the race to lead the United Teachers of Los Angeles faced tough questions and a rowdy audience last night, in the second forum of the campaign season.

It was the first time all 10 candidates — Alex Caputo-Pearl, the incumbent Warren FletcherBill GaffneyDavid Garcia, Saul LanksterKevin MottusMarcos Ortega II, Innocent OsunwaLeonard Segal and Gregg Solkovitz — have participated in such an event, drawing a modest audience of about 45 people at Monroe High School in the Valley.

Unlike the forum last month, during which the candidates spent most of their time discussing disfunction within the union, this meeting was all about the big issues: (finally) negotiating a salary increase and improving UTLA’s relationships with LA Unified administration and the school board

On the question of a pay raise, nearly all candidates agreed, a strike may be necessary.

“We need to organize our schools and give the district our demands but if they’re not receptive, we go on strike,” Solkovitz said. “We should have been doing this since March.”

Segal agreed but warned that a strike with the wrong person at the helm could potentially bankrupt the union. “We could lose up to a million dollars a day.”

Caputo-Pearl argued the union needs to launch an “escalating action to give members confidence as [UTLA] builds up to a credible threat of a strike.”

Lankster, however, opposed the idea of yanking teachers out of the classroom and into a picket line.

“No, we will not go on strike,” he told the audience. “We don’t sell out our membership.” He said, only UTLA leadership should be asked to make that level of sacrifice, not average teachers who are living hand to mouth.

Lankster also said a 17 percent raise — which is what the current leadership is demanding — is “not reasonable.” A more reasonable goal he said, would be to aim for an 8 to 10 percent increase.

The candidates were split on how best to improve UTLA’s relationship with the school board. Lankster, Caputo-Pearl, Garcia, and Mottus agreed that a show of strength is the best avenue.

The only way to make the district sit up and listen is when “we unite with the other unions of LA Unified, and organize parents and community groups,” Fletcher said.

But Gaffney said he favors a more conciliatory approach and suggested “interest-based bargaining,” which requires both sides to acknowledge they have something to gain from a relationship.

“It has gotten better deals for teachers in Santa Monica and Long Beach,” he said, before adding, “We can’t always butt heads and we need to start building trust.”

The next forum is on Thursday at UTLA headquarters from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Previous posts: In race to run powerful teachers union: ideology up for grabsCandidates for the teachers union presidency ganged up on Fletcher.

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