LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles teachers union is pressing its demands for a 20% raise over two years, smaller class sizes and a steep reduction in standardized testing — the latest stress test for the nation's second-largest school district and Superintendent Alberto Carvalho as the system struggles to address students' deep learning setbacks and mental health needs in the wake of the pandemic.
For United Teachers Los Angeles — which staged three simultaneous rallies Monday across the vast school system — its contract platform speaks to the intense pressures that members say are pummeling their profession, leading to dire teacher shortages in California and throughout the nation. Ongoing economic uncertainties and the high costs of living and housing in Los Angeles have intensified their focus on contract talks as teachers worry about career sustainability and increasing workloads.
"When you can't even afford to live when you work, we got a problem y'all," UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz said in impassioned remarks that closed the rally outside district headquarters just west of downtown. "This district has had seven whole months to address the educator shortage and to make sure that every student has a classroom teacher, every student has a school nurse, every student has a counselor and a librarian and mental health support."
Speakers at the rally included newly elected school board member Rocio Rivas, who benefited from a multimillion-dollar independent campaign on her behalf from the teachers union.
While Myart-Cruz sought to fire up her rank-and-file, school district officials sought to tamp things down.
"Los Angeles Unified continues to meet with our labor partners regularly," according to a statement the district issued in the afternoon. "We respect and acknowledge the dedication of our employees and the need to compensate them fairly in this current economic environment. We remain dedicated to avoiding protracted negotiations to keep the focus on our students and student achievement."
At the rallies, participants focused on record multibillion-dollar reserves, with the message that if teachers and other employees can't be rewarded and helped now, then when would it ever be possible?
Carvalho, in turn, has focused attention on potential difficulties ahead. Financial forecasters, including the state legislative analyst, warn of an economic downturn just as one-time COVID-19 relief aid is winding down. A raise that is affordable in 2022 must still be paid for three years from now — when money is likely to be tighter, and when steadily declining student enrollment could create more financial pressures.
The L.A. Unified labor actions come as a massive strike among UC academic workers enters its fourth week, with 48,000 teaching assistants, tutors, graduate student researchers and post-doctoral scholars also decrying the high cost of California housing in their demand for a significant pay increase, along with more support for child care, healthcare and transportation. The workers have rallied on campuses throughout the state for several weeks and held sit-ins on Monday, with sides far apart on money.
A common theme for both unions has been the high cost of living in the region, which teachers brought up repeatedly at the downtown union rally.