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UTLA cites working conditions, health benefits as major concerns

Mike Szymanski | August 27, 2015

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UTLA97The first big step was getting a pay raise. That happened earlier this year. So what’s next for UTLA?

United Teachers Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl says extensive input from teachers over the summer points to conditions in the classroom and the future of health benefits as among the issues most important to the union membership. He also said UTLA will strive to unionize more charter schools.

“Everyday teaching and learning conditions tend to be something that we hear a lot from our members,” Caputo-Pearl told the LA School Report. “They want to come into their classroom and do what they do and work with young people and not have to deal with ceiling tiles that are falling, or class sizes that are too big, or an administrator that refuses to follow basic contractual guidelines. Basic conditions are a concern.”

The other big concern voiced by teachers is the potential erosion of health benefits that have helped teachers to LA Unified. The benefits package LA Unified offers is among the most robust of any district in the state, including free lifetime benefits for retirees and their dependents.

“There is obviously a very well-funded national movement to attack public sector workers and health benefits that are associated with public sector workers,” Caputo-Pearl said. He talked about billionaire John D. Arnold who he said is “specifically intent to fund efforts to attack pensions, attack health benefits and retirement. It’s a very well-funded effort that our members are concerned about.”

Caputo-Pearl said teachers also expressed alarm over the proliferation of charter schools in LAUSD, which could result in a loss of revenue for schools. He said he is concerned about developments at Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, which run 25 charter schools at LAUSD. In trying to unionize the Alliance teachers, Caputo-Pearl said the efforts have run into opposition from Eli Broad and others who “have built an aggressive anti-union campaign against educators there who just want a voice in their classrooms and their curriculum.”

He said a key element in his strategic plan for the next two years is the organizing of charter educators. “We are going to continue to do that wherever we can,” he said. “Some of the teachers at Alliance who are fighting to have their voice heard and to have a union are some of the most inspiring young teachers that I’ve met in a long time. So we’re going to continue to do that.”

Alliance and the union have had clashes in recent weeks, culminating in a Public Employees Relations Board hearing.

Caputo-Pearl said unionizing teachers at charter schools is not necessarily a way of boosting UTLA’s declining membership.

“We don’t think of it so much just as a narrow way to increase membership, but moreso as an opportunity to try to bring educators together across district schools, across charter schools to create a floor or what we hope is higher than a floor of what learning conditions should be in schools,” he said. “The way you get that is through collective action across both district and charter schools.”

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