LOS ANGELES — “Arm me with a fair contract!” read placards held by several thousand members of United Teachers Los Angeles and their supporters in a union-organized rally of 4,000 here May 24. The L.A. teachers fight for a contract is impacted by the strikes and protests by school workers that have swept West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina and elsewhere over the last few months.
The action is a sign that the end of the school year may not bring an end to the uprising by school workers across the country and that strikes and teacher protests may continue in the fall.
Union and nonunion teachers alike have said, “Enough is enough!” and organized to maximize the weight of the rank and file, finding ways to unite workers, move forward and make gains.
They have learned to forge unity over professional and union lines and beat back attempts by the government to pit them against each other. They have won solidarity and transformed their fight into a broader social movement. And as the strikes and protests have moved from one state to another, they have inspired and learned from each other.
United Teachers Los Angeles represents 35,000 teachers, health and human resource workers in the Los Angeles Unified School District and in charter schools. Union members have been without a contract for a year. Their demands mirror the other battles — increased funding for schools and supplies, pay raises, smaller class sizes, more support staff and less test-driven curriculum.
District funding for the 640,000 students there is among the lowest per student in the country. Class sizes are ballooning — one kindergarten class this year had 47 students.
UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl told the rally that if there is no progress in talks during the summer, a strike vote will be taken in September and a strike organized for later in the fall.
Marshe Doss, an 11th-grader and leader in the Student Deserve coalition, and parent organizer Eloisa Galindo also spoke.
Speakers repeatedly exhorted the crowd to focus on voting, pointing to liberal big-business politician Democrat Gavin Newsom. Newsom, the state’s current lieutenant governor, is the front runner in the upcoming California gubernatorial primary.
Rebecca Garelli, a middle school teacher from Arizona and a leader of Arizona Educators United, told the rally, “Striking was the only way we could show our collective power.” The AEU joined with the Arizona Education Association to lead a sustained campaign of rallies, “Red for Ed” walk-ins and finally a strike that won new funding and substantial wage increases.
Members of Service Employees International Union Local 99, who work as the school district’s bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians and other nonteaching staff, joined the rally wearing their union shirts. Their local got a tentative new contract May 8, subject to vote by members, after 16 months of fruitless negotiations.
The union — which represents 30,000 workers — got the new proposal after they called a one-day strike for May 15 and the UTLA announced its members wouldn’t cross their picket lines. Within hours a new offer was made.
Local 99 posted a picture on its website of their contingent in the teachers’ rally, captioned, “You were there for us, we are here for you!”