At 11th Hour, LA Schools Sue to Block Teacher Walkout

Adults and children stand nearby as United Teachers Los Angeles union president Alex Caputo-Pearl (not shown) talks to reporters outside Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters, following a day of negotiations with the LAUSD on Jan. 7, 2019. Teachers in the nation’s second-largest school district will strike this week if there’s no settlement in long-running contract negotiations that resumed with the superintendent and the head of the union coming to the table Monday in a last-ditch effort to avert a walkout in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

LOS ANGELES (CN) – Hauling the teachers’ union to court ahead of a planned strike on Thursday, the Los Angeles Unified School District says the planned work stoppage would constitute a breach of contract.

Lawyers for the teachers’ union and the school district will meet in Los Angeles Superior Court on Thursday where a judge will determine if the strike can begin Jan. 14.

Either way the union’s scheduled strike date will be missed.

Though the United Teachers Los Angeles announced plans for its 30,000 educators to strike on Dec. 19, the school district shot back in a 9-page complaint Tuesday that a collective-bargaining agreement requires the union to give 10 days’ written notice.

Contending that the strike will harm about 700,000 students at more than 10,000 schools, the district is asking the Superior Court to grant an injunction.

In contrast to the risk that the strike poses to student safety, district funding and learning, in general, the district notes that “UTLA will suffer zero prejudice if an injunction enjoining the strike is issued.”

The school district has blamed the failure to adopt a new contract on bad-faith bargaining by union representatives, and last week went to court to limit which union members could leave the classrooms in a strike.

Though the district wanted to keep special education faculty available for students, U.S. District Judge Ronald Lew ruled the school district failed to articulate a legal basis for its claims.

Multiple news outlets reported that the union had been set to preemptively take the school district to court over whether it gave proper notice ahead of the scheduled strike, but a technicality did not allow that hearing to take place.

Superior Court Judge Mary Strobel will decide on Thursday whether to approve the union strike for next week and whether or not the union gave proper notice.

Representatives for UTLA called the school district’s filings in court to delay the strike “anti-union” and a “high priced” legal maneuver.

At a press conference before bargaining talks were set to begin on Wednesday, UTLA vice president Gloria Martinez said, “Absent an agreement we will plan to strike on Monday.”

Parents and teachers hold signs while talking to reporters outside Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters on Jan. 8, 2019, in Los Angeles. Teachers in Los Angeles, whose 640,000 students make it the nation’s second-largest school district, are ready to strike on Jan. 10 over a contract dispute that follows teacher walkouts in other states that emboldened organized labor after a critical defeat at the U.S. Supreme Court. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

If the judge grants the district an injunction, the school district would push the teachers’ strike into the week of Jan. 14. or even further into the month.

Earlier this week, union officials met with the school district’s bargaining team but did not make any progress.

Parent Tiffany Gardner has three children in the school district and will not cross the picket line if the strike finally gets under way.

“I will keep them out as long as the strike is going,” said Gardner during the press conference. “I will continue to fight the district for the services my children are entitled to and that they deserve.”

The union wants to see the school district use its $1.8 billion in reserves to reduce class sizes and bolster new hires including nurses, librarians and other staff. They’re also seeking a pay raise and a cap on public dollars that benefit charter schools across the district.

UTLA have asked the judge to allow them to move ahead with their walkout as the “no strike” clause referenced by LAUSD in their request for an injunction is part of an expired agreement. UTLA says this should not be a legal or contractual barrier to its planned strike, according to their lawsuit filed on Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court.

In a statement after those failed bargaining talks, the school district said it offered the union a reduction in class sizes and more than 1,000 new hires, including nurses, counselors and other educators.

That would include a hiring increase from $30 million to $105 million, but union officials argued there was no guarantee these would be long-term employees and any pay increase for teachers was contingent on changes to an employee health plan.

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