Talks resume as Los Angeles teachers' strike enters fourth day

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Negotiators for striking Los Angeles teachers and America's second-largest school district returned to the bargaining table on Thursday for the first time since talks collapsed last week, as a walkout by some 30,000 educators entered its fourth day.

In the first teachers' strike in the Los Angeles Unified School District in 30 years, members of the United Teachers Los Angeles union are seeking higher pay, smaller classes and more support staff, while denouncing their current working conditions as an "injustice."

"They are resolute on reaching an agreement," the union's president, Alex Caputo-Pearl, said at a news conference, referring to the union's bargaining team ahead of Thursday's talks.

School District Superintendent Austin Beutner has said the demands, if fully met, would place too great a strain on the district's budget.

The union is seeking a 6.5 percent pay raise. School district teacher pay currently averages $75,000, according to state figures. The district has offered a 6 percent hike with back pay.

A statement from the office of Mayor Eric Garcetti, who attended a teachers' rally earlier this week and has voiced strong support for their cause, said early Thursday afternoon that the bargaining teams "have returned to the table and negotiations have begun."

Garcetti, serving as a mediator in the renewed talks, met earlier in the day with Caputo-Pearl and Beutner at City Hall, his office said. It was not clear whether the mayor spoke with the two together or individually.

Union leaders said Garcetti had met with both parties on Wednesday, and that California's top education official, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, was also in contact with each side and had offered his support in efforts to reach a settlement.

Thurmond could play a key role in helping the district secure extra funds it may need to close a deal with the teachers.

Negotiators for the district and the union last met face-to-face last Friday, when union leaders rejected the district's latest contract offer. The union disputes Beutner's assertions that the district lacks sufficient resources to accept teachers' demands.

Caputo-Pearl said on Wednesday that the union was "engaged" with Thurmond and California Governor Gavin Newsom to "try to push on the state as well for additional funding."

"The money's there. There's no doubt about it. California is the richest state in the country," he told reporters on Wednesday. "The money is there for kids."

The teachers, who have been without a contract for nearly a year, walked off the job on Monday. District officials have kept all 1,200 schools open on a limited basis with a skeleton staff of administrators and substitute teachers, but attendance has been running at roughly a third of normal.

Thousands of striking teachers fanned out across the sprawling school district for a series of rallies and picketing on Thursday, braving a fourth day of showers that did little to dampen their spirits.

"It's important that we show the example of what we can do and the power that we have as the people," high school music teacher Justin Polk said at the news conference alongside Caputo-Pearl. "Our strength comes in numbers."

Los Angeles' walkout follows a wave of teacher strikes last year across the United States over pay and school funding, including work stoppages in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona.

In Denver, teachers could vote to strike by Saturday if no deal on a new contract is reached by then.

Beutner, a former publisher and investment banker, said the district had proposed 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.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman and Alex Dobuzinskis; additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles, Gina Cherelus in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; editing by Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis)

01/17/2019 16:16

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