Signaling that a proposed new contract could be harder to sell to teachers than union leaders had expected, a governing board of United Teachers Los Angeles voted to reject the agreement Wednesday night.
The 140-80 vote by UTLA's House of Representatives came hours after its board of directors narrowly voted to recommend that teachers approve the pact.
Earlier Wednesday, a newly elected slate of union leaders said they would fight the agreement, which would give teachers a 2% pay raise and also would give them more say in hiring and assignment decisions.
"I am going to oppose the contract," said A.J. Duffy, who will take over as union president July 1. Teachers are scheduled to vote on the contract in April.
In his campaign for the union presidency, Duffy argued that due to cost-of-living increases, anything less than a 7% raise for teachers could be considered a pay cut. He said Wednesday that his analysis of budget documents shows that the Los Angeles Unified School District could give teachers a raise larger than the 2% offered. "There's another percent there," said Duffy. "And it could be ongoing.... The money is there."
The contract was finalized last week by union and district officials after months of negotiations. "This is a good contract for the members," said current union President John Perez, adding that it was unfortunate that the new slate of officers had chosen to reject it.
The new union leaders cited a number of concerns with the agreement, including the size and timing of a raise for teachers, which would be retroactive to July 2004, and the way in which the district plans to divide large campuses into smaller learning centers. They also said the contract does not go far enough in dealing with reducing class sizes.
Joshua Pechthalt, the union's vice president-elect, said the new union leadership decided to oppose the contract after meetings earlier this week. "By the time we were finished ... we were all pretty convinced that the language was not only poorly written, but completely confusing," he said. "We know that if there's vague language, this district and management in general will drive a Mack truck through vague language. And teachers will be fighting to change that language for years to come."
Duffy said he planned to state his position at upcoming union meetings but had no plans to turn his opposition into a campaign at schools. "I want to make sure that the members understand the entire package," he said. "If the members decide they want this, that is the only thing that matters at this point."
In contract negotiations, Perez said union officials were successful in persuading the district to agree to reduce the number of mandatory after-school faculty meetings and to include union members in discussions about how teachers are trained and evaluated.
The contract talks have been ongoing for more than a year but only recently reached agreement, after the intervention of board members and following the union and board elections. The new slate of union leaders was elected in part because contract talks had gone on too long, some teachers said.