Hardball tactics pay off for L.A. teachers with 10% raise

Hardball paid off for the United Teachers Los Angeles late Friday when negotiators reached tentative agreement on a three-year deal that provides L.A. Unified teachers with a 10 percent pay raise in the first two years. That’s far more than other LAUSD unions got in collective bargaining.

The deal was sold as a win-win proposition by both LAUSD and UTLA leaders. But for nearly a year, LAUSD number-crunchers had fought for a much smaller raise in briefing L.A. school board members, citing the need to prepare for the pain of the phased-in 130 percent increase in district contributions to the California State Teachers’ Retirement System required by the 2014 CalSTRS bailout legislation.

The CalSTRS fix will cost LAUSD an extra $1 billion a year in fiscal 2020-21 when the phase-in is complete. That’s a giant burden for a district that this fiscal year has a $6.6 billion budget.

Nevertheless, school board members were ready for labor peace after the UTLA took serious steps toward a districtwide strike. They not only agreed to a 10 percent raise over two years, they dropped their hard line on making teachers pay more toward their health benefits.

Union ID’d funds for raises that were supposedly encumbered

The question of whether LAUSD had the legal authority to grant the raises never was seriously addressed. Early in negotiations, the UTLA sought a 17.6 percent immediate raise and cited the influx of funds the district had available because of the Local Control Funding Formula reform adopted by the Legislature in 2013.

That reform was supposed to earmark additional school funds for districts to specifically help troubled English-language learners and other struggling students. When the reform was adopted, Gov. Jerry Brown depicted it as a “revolutionary” step toward helping ensure California had a skilled workforce in coming generations. His aides downplayed the idea that the reform could be gamed at the local level by powerful local union chapters.

However, the Brown administration had no reaction to a Legislative Analyst’s Office report in January that none of 50 California school districts it surveyed, including the 11 largest, had adequate safeguards to make sure the funds were not diverted.

Another aspect of the labor talks also received little attention from the mainstream media. That was UTLA’s claim that members had not received a raise in eight years. In fact, in most California school districts, teachers receive automatic pay raises of 3.5 to 4 percent for 15 of their first 20 years on the job — “step” increases. They can also improve their pay classification by taking graduate coursework in any field — “column” increases.

In large school districts, this usually means at least 60 percent of teachers get pay-scale raises every year. The percentage is higher in districts with more turnover.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com