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LA Unified teachers went on strike in 1970, 1989. The gains sometimes didn't last

Doug Smith, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- As the strike fever built, Los Angeles teachers assembled at Hamilton High School and solemnly placed a casket into a hearse.

The funeral cortege then headed to LAX with a message for Sacramento: Public education is dead.

That was a prelude to the last strike by L.A. teachers, nearly 30 years ago. Today, teachers are once again on the brink of a walkout, saying public education is in peril.

If the strike takes place Monday, as planned, it would be the third in the five-decade history of United Teachers Los Angeles.

The earlier strikes, in 1970 and 1989, brought turmoil to the school system and angst to the city as students languished at schools with light supervision, played hooky or demonstrated while union and district officials wrangled in court and in the media for the upper hand. The threatened walkout could do the same.

As in past strikes, the pay dispute is compounded by deeper battles over the stature of teachers and the funding of public education.

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The district has offered teachers a 6 percent raise spread over the first two years of a three-year contract. The union wants an immediate 6.5 percent raise, retroactive to a year earlier.

Teachers have rejected the district's limited offer to reduce class size and add more support staff and are demanding the reversal of years of cutbacks to "fully staff" schools.

The union's rhetoric reflects a theme of teacher empowerment that has been at the center of the school district's labor struggles going back to 1970, when UTLA members were off the job for nearly five weeks.

The lasting effects of the earlier strikes have been mixed. Teachers and their union gained stature after both strikes, but the underlying goal of solidifying the funding of public education has proved elusive.

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