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Judge rules that Los Angeles teachers' strike can begin on Monday

Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge Thursday cleared the path for a Los Angeles teachers' strike to start Monday.

At issue was whether the union, United Teachers Los Angeles, gave a legally required 10-day notice to the school district that its members would no longer work under terms of the previous contract. This notice provision is included in the contract between the union and the L.A. Unified School District.

Judge Mary H. Strobel denied a request by the district to order an indefinite further delay to the strike and require the union to provide sufficient notice and then wait 10 more days. The district also suggested that the union's actions warranted a court order that would have delayed a strike even longer.

But Strobel did not agree.

"UTLA has the better argument here," she told attorneys when she returned from a 15-minute recess with her written order.

She noted that the union has listed various times and actions that could be construed as providing notice. But she focused on a Jan. 3 email from the union to the district that, though informal, met the legal requirement, in her view.

When the union on Wednesday moved its strike date from Jan. 10 to Jan. 14 -- 11 days after the Jan. 3 email -- it had done enough, she said. Strobel no longer had to consider whether other earlier actions also may have provided notice.

The union had decided to move the strike date out of concern about a potential adverse court decision.

Attorneys for L.A. Unified also had argued that the union needed to start the 10-day period over -- at the very least -- because its leadership had "encouraged" a strike, something that is not allowed during the notice period.

The union countered that both sides have been preparing for months and that there were no surprises.

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Strobel did not take issue with the union's recent activities.

"The judge denied their request on the merit," a member of the union legal team, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said of the district. "No matter what happened in the past, the Jan. 3 notice was good enough. For the purpose of UTLA, we get to go forward with our strike."

Attorneys for the district asserted that the legal issues were still on the table, even if they would not stop a strike.

L.A. Unified will be weighing whether to ask a court of appeal to review the judge's decision, said its deputy general counsel, Alexander Molina. Although the district did not win a court order to delay a strike, it still has an active lawsuit for breach of contract that it intends to pursue, Molina said.

Such a suit, however, would play out in standard legal time, perhaps over the course of six months to a year, attorneys said.

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