L.A. Teachers Strike Is About More Than a Fair Contract, Teacher Says

January 16, 2019

By Carlo Versano

With Los Angeles public schools ending a third day without their striking teachers, a deal between the union and the district remains elusive, according to Joseph Zeccola, a 2018-19 L.A. County Teacher of the Year and one of more than 30,000 educators currently protesting in the country's second-largest school district.

"We're at a standstill," Zeccola told Cheddar from the picket line on Wednesday. "The offers right now have not been good."

Los Angeles public school teachers are demanding, in addition to salary increases, that the district provide more support staff and smaller class sizes. Classes in L.A. County routinely have headcounts numbering 40.

The L.A. Times reported early Wednesday that both sides are close on a salary deal, and the district has proposed hiring more nurses, librarians, and social workers for a year ー all the district said it can afford. The union had rejected that offer as insufficient.

For Zeccola, the strike is about more than a fair contract. He said L.A. teachers were inspired by other teacher strikes in states like Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, and that in the end ー whether it's a deep blue state like California or a deep red state like Kentucky ー it's about "setting the tempo" for public education in the U.S. by allocating more resources to improve the quality of education for students.

"Our kids deserve the best we can afford to give them."

Public schools are currently being staffed by substitute teachers and some administrative staff, though in many cases that has meant one or two adults for every couple hundred students.

More than 90 percent of district teachers are out on picket lines across the county, according to Zeccola, despite rainy and severe weather across in the region. And 98 percent of unionized teachers voted to authorize the strike. The job action has drawn support from politicians like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), as well as celebrities like Jamie Lee Curtis. And the vast majority of Los Angelenos say they support the teachers ー nearly 80 percent, according to the most recent polling.

ThoughBut as the strike drags on and parents contend with mounting childcare issues, it is unclear if the levels of support will drop. Less than 30 percent of Zeccola's students went to school this week, in his estimation, while the rest stayed home in solidarity.

The district and union have not met face-to-face yet this week.

Zeccola said the teachers' demands are reasonable.

"No teacher is going to get rich," Zeccola said. "We're not looking for that."

For full interview click here.