Teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) went on strike this week after the teacher’s union and district leadership failed to reach agreement about class sizes, pay and school resources. The strike is expected to continue in the country’s second largest school system, affecting more than 30,000 teachers and 600,000 children.
Lee Adler, an expert on education and collective bargaining at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, says the strength of the union enables LAUSD teachers to voice their demands, and may even counter a charter school movement in Los Angeles.
“The teacher’s union in Los Angeles has a problem that the unions in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona did not have. Despite spending from national labor organizations to help elect Democrats like the new Californian Governor Gavin Newsom, billionaires from Silicon Valley have joined with Bill Gates and Eli Broad, a powerful Los Angeles billionaire, to charterize the city. Charter schools are aiming at the disgruntled poor whose children have not been properly served by the lack of overall funding and the ineptitude of the LAUSD. Battles occur daily about organizing the teachers in the charter schools and the charters’ attempt to gain a physical foothold in LAUSD buildings that have open space.
“Finally, United Teachers Los Angeles has shown through its new leadership headed by Alex Caputo Pearl an ability to re-organize this far flung school district with a dues increase initiative and a prompting of considerable engagement from young progressive teachers who want to truly make it possible for their kids to have genuine educational opportunity. An increasing number of historically apolitical young professionals are seeing the union and their leadership as the place to put their hopes. When things like this occur in society, it might be possible to make change even though all of the money and political power suggest otherwise.”
Ariel Avgar is an associate professor at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations and associate director with the Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution. His research focuses on the impact of conflict on employees and employers.
“It might be tempting to think about the LA teachers strike as a reflection of the limitations and shortcomings of collective bargaining. This would be a mistake. Conflict exists whether a union is present or not. Collective bargaining creates the structures through which to address it. School districts without a union don’t avoid the costs of conflict. Rather, they may experience it in different ways, often lacking the tools with which to channel and resolve it.
“Conflict is an inherent part of the relationship between workers and management. The LA teachers’ strike represents a formal and extreme manifestation of the repercussions of conflict that is not dealt with through other means and represents an effort on the part of the union to leverage its power to push for a resolution that addresses its members’ interests.
“It is also important to note that by highlighting the conflict between labor and management the strike is forcing both sides to contend with issues that need to be addressed well beyond just pay and working conditions. The strike is forcing the parties to address broader educational challenges that may have otherwise been ignored.”