Los Angeles teachers could have accepted management’s offer and spent the next few years complaining about it. Instead, they went on strike, all 32,000 of them. After six days of packed picket lines and mid-day marches to City Hall, they returned to work Jan. 30 having won a stunning series of concessions, including:
- 6 percent retroactive pay increases
- lower class sizes
- commitments to hire 300 more full-time school nurses, 82 more full-time teacher librarians, and 17 more counselors
- a joint committee to come up with a plan to reduce the number of standardized tests by 50 percent
- a joint task force to look for ways to turn asphalt lots and unused school buildings into community green spaces
- an end to random drug and weapon searches in 28 middle and high schools
The strike, at America’s second largest school district, was the result of years of preparation, during which LA teachers built community relationships, got organized internally, and approved a 30 percent dues increase to strengthen their union. For inspiration they brought teacher strike leaders from Arizona and West Virginia to speak at rallies. Trained by their union to talk to parents, teachers educated their communities about how charter schools are now draining almost $600 million a year from LA public schools, and how California came to have the nation’s third largest class sizes, seventh lowest per-pupil spending, and just one school counselor for every 945 students. They also incorporated community input on student searches and green spaces into their bargaining demands. So when they struck, public support was overwhelming: Roughly four out of five students stayed out of school, and many, with their parents, joined teachers on pickets and marches. And that’s how—after two years of bargaining with a hostile charter-school-friendly school board and a millionaire former investment banker superintendent —six days of striking got the goods.
In Vancouver, Washington, paraeducators and school secretaries were the latest to don red T-shirts, take up picket signs, and march on school district headquarters. Just hours before the Jan. 25 scheduled start of a strike by 700 paraeducators, secretaries, clerks and other classified staff, Vancouver Public Schools changed its offer and reached a deal with the Vancouver Association of Educational Support Professionals. Their new three-year contract raises wages 17.5 percent: 11.4 percent in year one (retroactive to September 2018), followed by raises of 3 and 3.1 percent.
Teachers in Denver voted Jan. 22 to authorize a strike. Teachers in Oakland are taking a strike vote this week.