Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Beating The Strike Drums In L.A.

Teachers in L.A. are preparing for the possibility of a strike:
Under mounting pressure for major reforms at Los Angeles schools, the teachers union has brought in its tough former leader to help mobilize members for a strike if its demands are not met.

United Teachers Los Angeles is hiring a former UTLA president, Wayne Johnson, who organized a successful nine-day strike in 1989 and wrangled a 24 percent pay raise over three years. Johnson later served as the hard-nosed president of the California Teachers Association and is now a consultant.

The move bolsters the UTLA's bid to organize the ranks behind a demand for a 9 percent pay raise, smaller classes and greater local control of schools.

But the agenda could be at odds with two forces: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a former UTLA organizer who is poised to assume substantial control over the district, and David Brewer III, newly selected superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Both have vowed to restructure the nation's second-largest school district.

UTLA President A.J. Duffy says he has mapped out a timeline of activities that include a strike vote in February and boycotts of student testing and faculty meetings in the spring.

"I asked Wayne to become a consultant to me and to UTLA because he, more than anyone else, understands what it takes to mobilize people, to coalesce people, and to carry out a successful strike and successful actions to portray (bureaucrats of) this district in the way they need to be portrayed - a wasteful, overblown bureaucracy that is completely out of control," Duffy said.

"I'm telling teachers: Save your money. Pay off your credit cards. Don't overextend yourself. I think we're in for a monumental struggle because these people in the bureaucracy don't get it."

Johnson, who led the UTLA from 1984 to 1991, will begin his job Wednesday as a special adviser focusing on contract negotiations.

In a written statement announcing his goal, Johnson said he intends to help Duffy make each classroom and campus a top funding priority for LAUSD.

"Forty-eight thousand teachers and health and human services professionals united to fight for kids and the classroom can't be stopped. Together with the UTLA leadership, I know we can do it," he wrote.

But some district officials say hiring Johnson is a signal that UTLA's leadership is weak, and leaders don't know what they are doing.

"They've realized they're operating on past memories of the good old days, when Johnson was president and negotiated and had a union behind him then - a very organized union - and he could rally the forces and go out and have a meeting where 10,000 teachers showed up," said a district official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"Johnson valued his members. He valued his teachers. He made them feel valued."

Johnson was able to secure 8 percent raises for three years in a row, but teachers took a 10 percent pay cut after the district hit financial dire straits in 1992.

Some say trust between the UTLA membership and leaders was recently shattered when Duffy secretly negotiated a deal with Villaraigosa over Assembly Bill 1381, which gives the mayor more control over the district and shifts power from the school board to the superintendent.

Rank-and-file teachers did not rally behind Duffy. When members finally took an advisory vote on the legislation, some 53 percent opposed it.

Duffy denies he is out of step with his membership and said he hired Johnson merely to strengthen the union's position.
There's more to read in the whole thing.

Keep your eye on this one. The new district superintendent is a retired Navy admiral who is used to giving orders and having them followed to the letter.

Stay tuned.
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