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Bitter Charges Signal a Longer School Strike : Accusations of Lying Mark Start of Second Week as Teachers Hold Rally; District Police Arrest 11

May 23, 1989|LARRY GORDON and SAM ENRIQUEZ | Times Staff Writers

With accusations of lying flying back and forth, relations between the two sides in the Los Angeles teachers' strike reached the boiling point Monday as thousands of teachers rallied and 11 union leaders and supporters were arrested later outside district headquarters.

Sources said it is increasingly likely that the strike, entering its second week Monday, may not be resolved until after school board runoff elections June 6 and could last the rest of the school year. The last strike in 1970 lasted 23 days.

"I'm not holding up much hope at the moment," school board President Roberta Weintraub said.

Helen Bernstein, a vice president of United Teachers-Los Angeles, the teachers' union, called the standoff an "absolute disaster for Los Angeles. I don't know if we'll ever have school again this year," Bernstein said.

She was among 10 adults and one juvenile who were arrested on suspicion of trespassing Monday afternoon after they allegedly attempted to cross school district police lines at district headquarters downtown. Those arrested included two other UTLA vice presidents and the secretary and treasurer of the union. The union charged school district police with brutality in the arrests, an allegation that was denied by the district's officers.

Meanwhile, the two sides exchanged the harshest rhetoric since the strike began, most of it over whether or not the district had indeed put a better offer on the table.

According to school board member Jackie Goldberg and other sources, negotiators for the school board on Sunday had offered teachers a three-year contract with guarantees of 8% raises each year, regardless of how much the district may receive in new state funds. Such a contract offer would be a significant advance from an earlier offer, in which the raise in the middle year ranged between 5.5% and 8%, depending on the availability of state money.

"It was eight, eight and eight, with no formula," said Goldberg, who had acted as a go-between in the labor dispute. "No ifs, no contingencies, nothing." Goldberg said she decided to violate a news blackout on the latest negotiations and reveal what had taken place because "I believe the people in the city have a right to know."

The union had privately indicated that it would accept such a 24% increase. Union official Bernstein said a lot of figures were mentioned during the bargaining but an offer of 24% was never formally made. Goldberg, she insisted, was not present during the sessions.

Union leaders claimed that the offer was still tied to the state windfall. They also said the district refused to make concessions on teacher pay docked for job actions and on the issue of sharing decision-making at schools.

UTLA President Wayne Johnson, in a bitter speech to about 7,000 teachers at a Sports Arena rally, called district leaders and negotiators "desperate, despicable people" and said of the board's money claims: "They are lying, they are lying, they are lying."

Johnson ridiculed Weintraub for what he claimed were naps as long as two hours she took during bargaining sessions. "We finally made a condition that Roberta had to be awake and at the table," he said.

Asked about those charges, Weintraub said in a telephone interview:

"I have no comment on anything like that. If I were really to reveal what went on in those sessions . . . about the language used by the other side. . . ." She declined to be more specific, citing the news blackout, but added that "Mr. Johnson has made it impossible to bargain."

Symbolizing how quickly the situation had changed in a day, the union held its massive pep rally Monday in space it had rented to vote on a new contract.

At a press conference Monday, school Supt. Leonard Britton insisted that the district had increased its pay offer during weekend negotiating. Of union charges to the contrary, Britton stated: "You will have to choose which one of us is lying."

Britton said talks collapsed after union leaders refused a package that the board was told would be acceptable.

Board members Julie Korenstein and Warren Furutani proposed a settlement package Monday which Goldberg confirmed was identical to one offered by the district Sunday. The package, among other things, included a provision that the district reimburse teachers for about half of the wages they were docked last winter for failing to report student grades for the fall semester. The rest of the wages lost during job actions before the strike could be made up by working extra hours.

The proposal also called for the membership on school management councils, which would decide such things as school discipline, to be evenly divided between teachers and district appointees. In addition, elementary school teachers would have 40 minutes a day for preparing lessons and be paid for voluntary schoolyard duty.

Union leaders said the non-monetary proposals are unacceptable because they do not give teachers enough power in deciding school issues.

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