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LA Teacher’s strike shows that unions can win more support for students and can open a battle against the unchecked creation of charter schools. Arlene Inouye, the Chair of the UTLA Bargaining Team discusses the result

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MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Once again, great to have you all with us.

As most of us know by now, the Los Angeles teachers strike is over. A supermajority of teachers voted to accept the new contract negotiated. Most importantly, it appears they won. The teachers won. The students won. The community won. The contract teachers voted on contained most of what they went out on strike fighting for, like pay increases for teachers, additional support staff for schools, nurses and librarians, smaller class sizes, and the regulation of charter schools. And significantly in that, the pushback against the privatization of public schools through unmanaged charter schools.

It showed the growing power of unions, specifically of teachers unions. And while a guaranteed more resources for LA schools, it also set parameters for the battles to come. Last October when the LA teachers were pushing negotiations, we were joined by the union’s bargaining committee chair Arlene Inouye, and she joins us again today. And Arlene, welcome. Welcome back to The Real News. Good to have you with us.

ARLENE INOUYE: Thank you, Marc. Good to be here.

MARC STEINER: So the mayor, Garcetti, let’s go to a clip of his announcing the negotiations ending, and the contract negotiations were finished between the union and the city. Let’s hear him.

ERIC GARCETTI: We’ve seen over the last few weeks the way that the city has rallied around public education. Quite frankly, it’s been breathtaking. It’s been inspiring to see. And for a city to embraced the idea that public education matters, that children matter, that teachers matter today is a day full of good news.

MARC STEINER: So he sings a good tune now. I mean, he did do a little fighting when you decided to go on strike. But talk about what just happened here. It really does appear–and I was going back to our conversation we had together in October–that most of what you were fighting for, pushing for for the schools, for the teachers, for the students, you actually won in this strike.

ARLENE INOUYE: Yes, Marc. I feel it’s a real victory and that we did win. We won big on the issues that we cared about and that we put forward, and that we did change the narrative, that we are fighting for our students. Yes we wanted a salary increase, but that wasn’t the main issue, and the only issue, as it was portrayed at the beginning. So we changed the narrative of what public educators are fighting for. And we did address, also, the unregulated charter schools. We are able to have something in our contract for the first time that would give us a voice in the process of colocation, when the charter school comes into a public school, that we can actually have a say in the process. So this is really a great first step.

And we also have the promise of a board resolution, a school board resolution, to have a charter cap or a moratorium that will be taken to the state, which is the body that will decide whether there is a moratorium on unregulated charter schools.

MARC STEINER: Before we continue–I’m sorry, go ahead.

ARLENE INOUYE: It’s amazing. It’s amazing that we were able to have that as a part of our bargaining package.

MARC STEINER: So I want to come back to that before we conclude our conversation about the battle around privatization, and what that portends for the future. But talk a bit about for a moment what exactly you won in this contract, and again–because I think it’s significant that yes, you did get your 6 percent raise, if I remember reading right. And-

ARLENE INOUYE: Without concessions.

MARC STEINER: Without concessions. What does that mean, without concessions? What do you mean?

ARLENE INOUYE: Originally they wanted–they tied salary increase to working longer hours, and also cutting our health care for the new employees, by making it harder to get them.


ARLENE INOUYE: Yes. So that was a cleanly [inaudible] without concessions. So that’s–I think that’s really important. But you know, what we won is we put forward many issues, but we had some primary ones. And that was the elimination of 1.5, which is in our article on class size. And this is an amendment that has been used like an escape hatch to not have to obey the class size caps. So the district has been able to say there’s an economic emergency every year for decades, and we had no control over our class sizes. And they have been increasing. So this is a huge win, because we have never been able to get it out of our contract before. And we are the only district that has this in their contract.

MARC STEINER: In California, your home district.

ARLENE INOUYE: Yes. So this was a priority, and we made it clear this has to go. We felt that strongly. And in addition to that, we were able to get class size reduction that would address the–we had a former MOU, a memorandum of understanding, and in using those numbers we were able to reduce the numbers accordingly. So for example, in ninth grade English and math there would be a reduction of seven students. But for most of the grades it would be a reduction of 1 for the first year, and then another two for the second year, and then for the third year, four students, because it’s cumulative.

So it’s not the fastest in terms of, you know, getting to a lower class size, and we recognize that. But the important thing is we eliminated 1.5, so they can’t unilaterally just up the class sizes, and it will be going down. And so that’s–I think that’s a real victory. And then we are also able to get a nurse in every school. That’s an addition of 300 nurses over a two year period. We’re able to get teacher librarians in the middle schools, where they were laid off during the recession and not brought back. So that’s around 82 positions of teacher librarians. And then we have an academic counselor ratio of 500:1. So all we needed was 17 counselors to fill that ratio. So it’s more academic counselors.

But we also have in our contract community schools, which is our model to counter the charter schools. That’s where you have the school community, the parents, the educators, and the students who have a voice in what they want at their school, whether it’s sports programs, music, arts, ethnic studies, a focus on certain, on academic–you know, STEM, or whatever they want. That is determined by an assessment, and then add additional resources will be given. $150,000 will be given to different schools. And that might be an increased mental health professional. It could be, you know, whatever that school determines is a priority for them. So this is what we really feel is important, that we start investing in our local public schools. And this gives that pathway to do that.

MARC STEINER: So let me very quickly here play this clip for you and for our viewers. This is from Democracy Now the other day. I think you were on the same program with Amy Goodman. And there’s teacher talking about privatization. And the interview that Amy had with her that she played, and I’m going to play this for our viewers and for you we can talk a bit about this battle of the privatization that I think will be a consuming battle in the months and years ahead. So let’s watch this for a moment.

SPEAKER: I mean, we do want better resources for our school. We want higher salary, we want smaller class size, less testing. But I think ultimately this is about the privatization of schools. We have a superintendent, Austin Beutner, who is right now pushing to privatize schools. And that’s a problem for us because our students are being disproportionately hurt by that, and not have access to quality education if all the funding for public school is pulled into charter schools.

MARC STEINER: So Mr. Beutner, who is the head of the school system in LA. And most of the school board, because of the money poured into the last election, were people who who supported privatization of schools on some levels. Because of the money they had to kind of push their campaigns–you’ll be able to negotiate some things back. But this seems to me to be one of the huge fights that you’re going to have to have in LA that is emblematic of fights going on across the country.

ARLENE INOUYE: You know, we believe LA is ground zero for the privatization of our schools. And you know, LAUSD is the second largest district in the country. It has a budget of about $7.5 billion. We have the most charter schools of anywhere because, surely, from our size. So we feel that what happened–and everyone’s told us–what happens in LA is going to affect the whole nation. And if we fight and push back in LA it really does give a fight and pushback for the rest of our brothers and sisters.

So it really is remarkable, because truly we are fighting a privatization agenda for our public schools. But we were able to again get a colocation new article that gives some voice to our educators when a charter school opens up in our public schools. And also this charter cap. Those are really good first steps. Of course there’s going to be a lot more. And we see this contract as a beginning of how we can organize now that we had the strike. We have many new leaders who are very passionate and very excited about what we won, and the feeling of empowerment and validation that they got from the strike. Seeing the parents and the community come out and support us was just truly heartening. And I think there is new vitality and new vigor in how we are going to be educators and how we’re going to keep fighting for all of the things that we want for public schools, and that our students need.

MARC STEINER: That leaves me with a very final, very quick point here, which is that what does it say, do you think, about the future of unions, like teachers unions, it could be a strike happening in Oakland. Another strike happening in Denver, Colorado that we’ve been following it. I’ve been following the Oakland teachers issue really closely. But what does this mean for the power of teachers unions and unions in general, do you think, in terms of the struggle we’re having in this country?

ARLENE INOUYE: That’s right, Marc. We are in the post-Janus period. But I feel that we’ve set a new bar for what can be when unions choose to fight back. I mean, we’ve made it clear this is just–you know, that this isn’t the beginning for us. We’ve been in this battle for the past four years, and we had an agenda for the schools our students deserve, and our contact campaign came out of that. So issues of social justice, issues of equity, issues of focusing on our students and families, that was all laid out before. And the fact that we were able to get all of our membership unified and strong and united, to the point of even withholding their labor and having a personal sacrifice of loss of pay for seven days of the strike, we were able to achieve that because everybody felt that it was worth it. That what we were fighting for it would make it better in the end; better for the future of our students, better for our own families, better for us who are educators and who have felt beaten down for many years, and better for the system. And we believe in the system of public education and we feel that it’s been hijacked by the billionaires.

So this is the new bar for what a union can do. There’s a lot of, I think, there’s–there’s so much that the collective power of a union with our families can unleash during a strike. And I think–you know, education unions have a special place in history because we have such strong relationships with parents and community. We saw this in West Virginia and other states, we saw this in Chicago, that there is such a bond and trust. And using that trust we were able to have more power than the privatizers in LAUSD. We were able to have more power to win the things in our contract that are going to take us forward in the next years.

MARC STEINER: Arlene Inouye is the bargaining committee chair for the United Teachers Los Angeles that just settled their contract, and actually won most of what they fought for. Arlene, thank you so much for joining us once again at Real News. Pleasure to talk with you; look forward to talking with you again.

ARLENE INOUYE: Thank you, Marc.

MARC STEINER: Take care. And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thanks for watching. Take care.

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Arlene Inouye has been a UTLA officer since 2011, running with a team that promoted the Schools LA Students Deserve that focuses on the needs of our students and communities, social and educational justice, member empowerment and respect for our profession. Arlene has served as Treasurer, and is currently the Secretary of UTLA and the chair of UTLA's bargaining team.