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Teachers Pick Tough New Union Leader

Labor: John Perez will likely lead United Teachers in contentious contract talks over a 5% raise, while district says it is pressed for funds.


The Los Angeles teachers union on Tuesday elected a former high school teacher as its new president, narrowly choosing the more confrontational of two candidates to likely lead contract negotiations.

John Perez, 55, will head United Teachers-Los Angeles through contentious contract talks with the Los Angeles Unified School District when he takes office July 1 if a settlement is not reached before then.

The union is seeking a 5% raise for its teachers this year--an increase that would cost the district about $125 million. District officials said they have little if any money for a raise because L.A. Unified already faces a $428-million budget deficit.

"This district has to make the classroom the No. 1 priority," Perez said in an interview after his victory. "The classroom is always the last priority."

Perez, currently a union vice president, edged another union vice president by 98 votes in a runoff for the organization's top job. Perez received 4,966 votes. Becki Robinson, a former elementary school teacher with a less strident approach to contract talks, received 4,868 votes.

The union represents about 47,000 teachers, librarians, counselors, school nurses and other school employees in the district.

Members received an average 11.5% raise last year.

Both sides agreed at that time to renegotiate salaries this year and next year as part of a three-year contract.

Perez spent the last dozen years in various vice presidential positions in the local union. He also taught for 21 years at Roosevelt High School.

He will replace union President Day Higuchi, who must step down because of term limits.

Like Higuchi, Perez is known for tough talk in contract negotiations. "I've been on strike," Perez said, referring to a nine-day walkout by teachers in 1989. "I'm not afraid of it."

District officials said they look forward to working with Perez and the teachers who won other spots on the union's governing board.

"I think it's time for us to have a renewed relationship [with the union] that helps kids," said school board President Caprice Young.

In another labor situation involving the district, the school board approved a motion Tuesday encouraging 700 striking school bus drivers and their employer to reach an amicable and expedient resolution.

But school Supt. Roy Romer balked at a Teamsters' request to take a more active role in the talks.

On strike for a week, members of Teamsters Local 572 have been negotiating unsuccessfully with Laidlaw Education Services, the district's biggest transportation contractor.

No new talks were scheduled for today.

An estimated 20,000 students have been affected, getting to school late on buses operated by substitute drivers.

Teamsters' spokesman Don Owens said he was encouraged by the board's motion, calling it a good start.

"We definitely would like to sit back down with the company and work out a fair agreement," Owens said.

Laidlaw Vice President Jim Ferraro also said he wants to get back to negotiations and that he agrees with Romer's position on keeping the district out of the talks.

"The board is in a deficit situation as it stands," he said. "The union's contract is with Laidlaw, not with LAUSD."

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