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Antonucci: The Los Angeles impasse moves on to Act II — and why fact-finding failed to avert a teacher strike in 1989

Mike Antonucci | October 16, 2018



Mike Antonucci’s Union Report appears weekly at LA School Report.

As expected, three mediation sessions between the Los Angeles Unified School District and United Teachers Los Angeles failed to result in a settlement — or even any movement, apparently — so the state-appointed mediator agreed to move the process forward to its final phase, fact-finding.

Each side blamed the other for the impasse, with the district filing a bad faith bargaining complaint against the union with the state Public Employment Relations Board.

“By UTLA’s own admission, the only reason UTLA participated in mediation was to ensure that it could move quickly to a strike,” said LA Unified attorney David Holmquist.

While both sides are still free to negotiate during the fact-finding phase, no talks are scheduled and none are anticipated. The report of the fact-finding panel probably won’t lead to a settlement, and in all likelihood will merely provide public relations fodder for both sides, regardless of its conclusions.

The district and the union each appoint a representative to the panel. PERB then gives the two sides a list of experienced attorneys or arbitrators to act as the chairperson. The district and union will alternate crossing names off the list until only one remains.

Things can go sideways even at this early stage, as illustrated by the fact-finding process prior to the 1989 UTLA strike. Bay Area attorney Geraldine M. Randall was the last name remaining and was appointed chairperson. Her subsequent report described what happened next:

“At the beginning of the hearing in these proceedings, UTLA questioned the ability of this Chairperson to fairly and properly assess the evidence, particularly that pertaining to the District’s financial status. It contended that the report issued by the Chairperson two years ago reflected a blind acceptance of the District’s budget analysis, and asserted UTLA’s willingness to ‘throw the current report in the waste basket’ if it did not agree with its findings. In the belief that it is essential to the factfinding process that the parties have confidence in the person selected to act as the neutral panel member, the Chairperson offered to resign and to obtain for the parties a new list of neutrals from which another selection could be made. UTLA declined this offer, stating they did not believe PERB could provide anyone they would find more acceptable.”

The panel held three days of hearings over a period of one week and agreed to issue its report about three weeks after that.

I won’t delve into all the details of the 1989 report, though I recommend reading it because of the similarities with today’s district-union impasse. Randall ended up supporting the district’s position on most issues. John Britz, UTLA’s chief negotiator and its appointee to the panel, issued a dissenting opinion in which he called Randall “so biased as to qualify for the position of chief negotiator for the district and against teachers.”

He called the report and its conclusions “biased, sloppy and gullible” and finished by stating that Randall “should be ashamed of her report; everyone else should disregard it.”

UTLA certainly did so, going on strike before the report was issued on May 17, 1989. The question today is not whether the panel will agree with one side or the other or engineer a compromise. It is whether its findings will influence at all the decision of UTLA’s leaders to call a strike.

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