Thousands of LA teachers rally downtown for new contract
Craig Clough | February 27, 2015
It was dubbed the “Stand at Grand,” and while it may not have drawn as many as the “Thrilla in Manilla,” it was an impressive turnout of thousands of Los Angeles Unified teachers at Grand Park last night as they rallied to demand a new contract.
With City Hall behind him and a massive crowd of teachers and supporters in front of him, Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of the teachers union, UTLA, took the stage at the end of the rally, but before he even spoke, his point was already made: the show of force and size of the crowd was the whole point of the gathering.
Caputo-Pearl claimed there were 15,000 people at the park. A group of police officers assigned to the rally told LA School Report they estimated the number at 8,000 to 10,000. Whatever the number, the downtown park was filled with teachers eager to show their willingness to go on strike if asked.
“The goal today is to show that we are not afraid to go out on strike, that if we don’t meet an agreement that we will go out on strike,” said Monica Multer, a teacher at Melvin Avenue Elementary.
The rally comes as the first major event in the wake of an impasse in negotiations between the union and LA Unified, which the two sides declared earlier this month. Negotiations have dragged on for months, with the union rejecting the district’s latest offer of a five percent raise, an increase in starting salary and millions of dollars to reduce class size.
The sides remain an estimated $800 million apart as the union is seeking the first raise for its members in eight years. UTLA’s last demand before the impasse was for a 8.5 percent raise. The district has said that meeting the demands would mean large cuts to other areas of the budget as well as layoffs.
“Our demands, they are not radical,” Caputo-Pearl told the crowd. “When did it become radical to have class sizes that you can actually teach in? When did it become radical to have staffing, and to pay people back after eight years of nothing? When did that become radical?”
Before the rally, LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines issued a statement that declared the district’s latest offer was still on the table.
“United Teachers Los Angeles promoted today’s rally weeks before it declared an impasse in labor negotiations. We remain focused on securing an agreement, like we have with the majority of other labor partners at the Los Angeles Unified School District, which takes into account our fiscal reality and our commitment to students, teachers, support service personnel and the District at large,” Cortines said.
The crowd was treated to a number of speakers before Caputo-Pearl, including National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, who pointed to the district’s dismal statistics when it comes to class size.
“Forty-two, 43, 45 kids in a classroom? Three-thousand classrooms in Los Angeles have more than 45 students. That is unacceptable,” Garcia said.
Early into Captuo-Pearl’s speech, a group of musicians that had played for the crowd earlier interrupted him and broke into a short and seemingly spontaneous rendition of “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” a 1980s-era fist-pumping, anti-authority heavy metal anthem by Twisted Sister. But Caputo-Pearl said it was not spontaneous, but part of the carefully crafted message the union wanted to project, which is that teachers are angry and ready to walk.
“The recession, the cuts to the bone at schools, the attacks on public service, the increasingly savage racism and economic inequality that our students face, John Deasy for three years, all of them have set us back,” Caputo-Pearl said. “And we are not going to take it any more.”