By Steve Gorman and Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Some 30,000 Los Angeles teachers on strike for higher pay, smaller classes and more staff walked picket lines in the rain for a second day on Tuesday as Mayor Eric Garcetti embraced their cause while trying to nudge the two sides back to the bargaining table.
Negotiators for the Los Angeles Unified School District and the United Teachers Los Angeles have not met since union leaders rejected the LAUSD’s latest contract offer on Friday night, calling the proposal an “insult.”
Asked on Tuesday afternoon whether the two parties had any intention of resuming labor talks, an LAUSD spokeswoman said: “Nothing is scheduled at this time.”
But hours later, union president Alex Caputo-Pearl said in a video statement posted online that Garcetti “has been working with us and working on the district side” to reinitiate negotiations.
“Things are developing in a good way there, and we’ll have more to report to you tomorrow on that,” Caputo-Pearl said.
There was no immediate word in response from either the mayor’s office or LAUSD, which ranks as the second largest public school district in the United States, encompassing some 1,200 campuses.
The walkout, with teachers garbed mostly in red braving two days of rainy weather to stage mass rallies downtown, has shattered 30 years of labor peace by Los Angeles teachers but has not completely idled schools.
The district has enlisted administrators and substitute teachers to keep classes open on a limited basis through the strike, although LAUSD reported only about a third of its 492,000 public school students showed up on the first day of the walkout. It said attendance was up 13 percent on Tuesday.
About 148,000 additional students are enrolled in LAUSD’s independently managed charter schools and have been unaffected for the most part by this week’s labor strife.
On Tuesday, however, a group of no more than four dozen unionized teachers at three LAUSD charter schools operated by a company called The Accelerated Schools walked off the job in a separate dispute they said was focused on job security.
It marked only the second charter school strike in the nation and the first in California, said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers parent union .
The Los Angeles walkout followed a wave of teachers’ strikes across the United States over pay and school funding, including in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona. Denver teachers could vote to strike by Saturday if no deal on a new contract is reached by then.
SYMPATHY FOR TEACHERS
Public sympathy appeared strongly aligned with the Los Angeles teachers’ union, with more than three-quarters of those polled by Loyola Marymount University’s Center for the Study of Los Angeles saying they supported the teachers.
The survey, released on Tuesday, showed strike support running at 60 percent or more across all demographic groups. Among parents with children at home, support topped 82 percent, a finding reflected in the presence of many parents seen walking picket lines with the teachers, despite the inconvenience the strike posed for working families.
Aside from the education disruption, the strike could have implications for the political aspirations of the mayor, who is considered a likely contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Garcetti expressed support for the teachers, telling Reuters at Tuesday’s rally that the strike “is an important and righteous fight about the soul of our schools. Every parent, every kid deserves a decent-sized classroom where teachers aren’t overwhelmed by the numbers.”
The mayor previously avoided taking sides in the dispute, over which he has little practical sway because the LAUSD is governed by an independently elected school board that appoints its superintendent.
The two sides remained at loggerheads on how much the district needs to invest in hiring staff, including nurses, librarians and other support staff.
Superintendent Austin Beutner said the district had offered staff increases that would cost $130 million a year – more than county officials have said is available – while the union’s demands would cost $800 million.
Beutner offered to accompany teachers in lobbying state lawmakers to increase education funding. “Join me on the bus,” he said.
The union wants a 6.5 percent pay raise. LAUSD teacher pay currently averages $75,000, according to state figures. The district has offered a 6 percent hike with back pay.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis and Steve Gorman; Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb and Jane Ross in Los Angeles, Gina Cherelus and Peter Szekely in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Cynthia Osterman and Peter Cooney)