Antonucci Explains UTLA Strike Campaign

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Mike Antonucci explains why the United Teachers of Los Angeles strike is inevitable, and the behind-the-scenes campaign that will propel it forward in LA School Report.

Two things happened last week to move the strike along. One was that the state Public Employment Relations Board ruled the two sides at impasse and appointed a mediator. Breaking the impasse and resuming negotiations require one side or the other to make a concession that indicates an agreement is possible.

My sense of the UTLA atmosphere is that if the vote were merely to determine what the members want, a strike would be approved. But the union’s leaders want more than that.

In his “state of the union” speech to UTLA representatives, President Alex Caputo-Pearl said, “We, as chapter leaders at this defining moment, must lead our co-workers in an overwhelming ‘Yes’ vote.”

The idea is to drive the “yes” votes up so high as to make a public relations statement as well as authorize a strike. A “no” vote, or even a close vote, would indicate no enthusiasm for a strike and — logic suggests — weaken the union’s bargaining position.

So the rest of this month will be spent on internal organizing, presenting the union’s bargaining positions to the membership as equitable requests designed to improve public education and student outcomes, while standing firm against the depredations of a “corrupt school board,” as Caputo-Pearl described it.

It’s a campaign, so don’t expect a balanced presentation. For example, UTLA posted this graphic on its social media platforms, with the caption “These are facts, not opinions.”

I don’t know how many teachers will take the time to notice that this depiction includes only federal government spending, and leaves out the additional $600 billion a year that state and local governments spend on K-12 public education. Call them half-facts.

The message UTLA wants to send requires, in my opinion, a yes vote of 90 percent or more. That’s what it will get. What happens after that is also obvious, but it is reassuring to hear corroboration from a member of the UTLA board of directors, who wrote last Friday that the strike authorization vote will be “followed by a month of consolidating parent and member support in order to be walkout-ready by early October.”

LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner sees it differently. “We are forecasted to lose about a half a billion dollars this year and roughly the same next year and the next,” he said. “So cumulatively, we will spend about $1.5 billion more than we take in. We have about $1.2 billion in the bank. So, if we spend $1.5 billion, we run out. That’s math.”

Caputo-Pearl and Beutner can’t both be right, and if the circumstances they describe are true, they can’t both get what they need. That’s why there will be a strike beginning the week of Oct. 8.