teachers strike

Why 32,000 Teachers Are on Strike in Los Angeles

Los Angeles teachers striking.
Los Angeles teachers striking. Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Thousands of school educators in Los Angeles went on strike on Monday to demand smaller class sizes, increased support staff, and better pay. This marks the first teachers’ strike in 30 years for the second-largest school district in the U.S., and comes after two years of heated negotiations between the United Teachers Los Angeles union and the Los Angeles Unified School District. CNN reports that 32,000 educators walked off the job on Monday — and into the cold rain, where they held up picket signs and umbrellas — and although schools remain open, it’s unclear how many students will attend or how long the strike will last. Here’s what we know.

The strike comes after two years of heated negotiations between the teachers’ union and the school district.

Monday’s strike has been a long time coming. For nearly two years, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) has been negotiating with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), which serves approximately 640,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

One month ago, thousands of teachers and allies marched in downtown Los Angeles over what New York’s Sarah Jones described as a bargaining impasse. The UTLA is seeking smaller class sizes, a 6 percent pay increase, and the hiring of more school nurses, counselors, and librarians; the school district claims those demands will result in a deficit. However, the union counters that the district has a cash reserve of $1.8 billion. UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl told the AP in December, “It’s unconscionable to hold on to that money acting like kids don’t need it now. We need it now.”

Los Angeles teachers striking. Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

The union has said that striking was a last resort — and many teachers are holding signs saying that they are on strike “for our students.”

On its website, the UTLA states that “a strike is a last resort for working people to bring about change when their employer, in this case LAUSD, refuses to listen their important concerns.” Likewise, at a Monday news conference, Caputo-Pearl said, “Let’s be clear educators do not want to strike,” but that they felt compelled to do so for their students. “Here we are in a fight for the soul of public education,” Caputo-Pearl said, per NBC News. The educator also said, according to the Los Angeles Times, “We don’t want to miss time with our students. We don’t want to have less money for the car payment or less money for the school supplies that we always end up buying ourselves.”

The union also explained on social media that the L.A. school district has some of the highest class sizes in the state, which already has one of the highest average class sizes in the country.

Los Angeles educators are sharing their personal stories about why they’ve decided to strike.

Writing for the Huffington Post, LAUSD teacher Joseph Zeccola — one of the 2018-19 Los Angeles County Teachers of the Year — said that the strike is not primarily about pay; instead, it is about helping students. He explained how having large class sizes has affected his work:

One of my English classes has 38 students in it (I know many teachers with classes in the 40s). That means if I wanted to give my students a 15-minute read-and-response to the essay they spent two weeks on (a common practice for an English teacher), it would take me 9.5 hours. To grade one set of essays. I spent 11 hours over winter break overseeing optional writer’s conferences with my AP English Literature seniors, another full day facilitating a practice test, and yet I still don’t have time to give my students the attention they deserve.

Other educators and their allies have shared their stories on social media, and scenes from the strike have been posted online as well.

Why 32,000 Teachers Are on Strike in Los Angeles