Friday, May 18, 2012

What Kind of Union Asks for 10 Furlough Days?—UTLA Does

There is no question that Los Angeles Unified School District is facing a serious financial crisis. They are millions of dollars in the hole and trying to recoup that money on the backs of teachers. In a particularly audacious attack, they demanded that United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) accept 20 furlough days next year (see 4LAKids Blog), which amount to the loss of nearly a month’s pay or an 8% pay cut.

It is easy to appreciate UTLA’s desire to protect its members’ jobs. However, in order to do so, UTLA actually asked for (and got) 10 furlough days, which I suspect most members will find unacceptable.

UTLA has stated that its priority is to restore jobs, save educational programs and protect class size.

If this is true, then UTLA cannot seriously be considered a union. Indeed, what kind of union asks the boss for 4% pay cut?

The goals of protecting positions, programs and class sizes are all great goals, particularly for students, but they are just a tiny part of teachers’ working conditions and remuneration. A real fighting union starts with the assumption that the workers and the bosses have an adversarial relationship (even if they treat each other nicely) in which the bosses try to extract more work for less money from the workers. The union’s role is to fight for better remuneration and working conditions for their constituents, (i.e., the teachers), NOT their clients (i.e., students).


  1. I don't think the last sentence is really necessary to your argument here. Teacher furlough days aren't in kids interest either, and I'd argue that teacher and student interests are much more aligned overall than in opposition.

  2. I would agree, Tom, that teacher and student interests are usually more aligned than in opposition and furlough days are pretty clearly against students' interests (10 furlough days = 2 weeks of lost instructional time).

    I included that line only to highlight that the public often presumes that our entire purpose for teaching is to help kids, when the reality for most of us that it also provides an income so we can feed our own families. We don't do it for free, though we do work far more hours than we are paid for. And the current wave of reforms is only making that worse.

    Unfortunately, many teachers and their unions buy into this notion that "it's all about the kids," which of course is a good tactic to take in terms of public perception, but it is not the whole story and it leads one down the road of accepting more and more anti-student/anti-teacher reforms because we want to appear reasonable in the propaganda war about what's really best for kids.