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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

"The open question is: Why in terms of money are not the two parties holding hands and getting on the plane to Sacramento?" said Charles Kerchner, a labor relations historian and professor emeritus at Claremont Graduate University. "The paymaster here is the state."

He wondered whether a strike might undermine any effort to amend California tax law in ways that would allow LAUSD to "move up from the bottom 10 places in the country in terms of school funding."

The same question infused the previous strikes.

In 1970, teachers won a 5 percent pay raise along with smaller classes and the creation of advisory councils on which they would share power with administrators -- gains hailed as a watershed at the time.

"We have turned the school administrative system upside down, and teachers for the first time have achieved a dignity for themselves because they now speak to administrators as equals," Don Baer, UTLA's then-executive director, said at the time.

But others cried "sellout" because the walkout failed to wring new funds from Sacramento, where Gov. Ronald Reagan remained unsympathetic.

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"We should have stayed out on strike until Governor (Ronald) Reagan and the Legislature were forced to realize that education in California is a top-priority problem," said a disgruntled teacher quoted anonymously in the Los Angeles Times.

The union victory was further compromised when a court found that California law did not authorize school districts to engage in collective bargaining and nullified the contract.

But the strike's impact was felt years later, in 1975, when the Legislature approved the Rodda Act, establishing collective bargaining for teachers.

"That was my bill to protect the teachers and give them a voice and make sure the students that the teachers taught were listened to, so the winners of the strike have to be the students," said Bill Lambert, a UTLA co-founder.

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