Shutdowns and Strikes: Government workers and UTLA teachers stop work

 

By Sam Goodman

Editor in Chief

 
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SHUTDOWN

On Dec. 22, President Donald Trump initiated a partial government shutdown in response to Congress’s failure to compromise on a $5.7 billion border wall spending bill.

        As a result of the shutdown, the hours and wages of federal workers’ hours and wages are heavily affected. Effects vary based on the worker’s classification as government workers are classified into two categories: expected and unexpected. Expected employees’ jobs involve safety, property protection, and other worked deemed ‘necessary’. Through the shutdown, expected employees continue work unpaid. However, non-expected employees are put on unpaid furlough and cannot work, even on a volunteer basis.

Because a quarter of the federal government is currently unfunded, the effects of the shutdown span from TSA delays and increased flight risk to a lack of funding for Native American tribe’s general needs such as food and healthcare.

TSA employees who are not receiving pay have increasingly missed work, resulting in the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the Air Line Pilots Association, and the Association of Flight Attendants to release a statement addressing flyer concerns.

"We cannot even calculate the level of risk currently at play nor predict the point at which the entire system will break. It is unprecedented," the statement read.

Additionally, President of the Flight Attendant's Association Sara Nelson called for a general nationwide worker's strike to encourage the end of the shutdown, according to BBC.

The FDA has continued high-risk facilities checks, including inspections on seafood, cheese, and produce, according to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

"It's not business as usual, and we are not doing all the things we would do under normal circumstances," Gottlieb said.

Immigration cases have also been delayed. According to a report by Syracuse University, over 42,000 immigration hearings have been canceled as of Jan. 11, with 20,000 cases canceled each subsequent week.

According to Judge Dana Leigh Marks of the National Association of Immigration Judges, these delays will have ‘devastating effects’.

Additionally, because Native American tribes receive federal funding, as a result of the shutdown, many groups have been forced to use their own funds to keep clinics and food pantries opened. A Chippewa tribe has been forced to pay $100,000 for services usually covered by the government, according to the New York Times.


STRIKE

Amid the government shutdown, the United Teachers of Los Angeles union began striking on Jan. 14, their second strike in union history.

“Leaving the classroom was a little terrifying. I have been teaching long enough to know that kids are resilient, but from the point of view of a child- I know they had anxiety and fear to hear their teacher was going to be leaving for an unknown period of time. I had no way to tell them how long I was going to be gone, so that was scary for all of us,” Van Gogh Elementary School teacher Robyn Reinhart said.

Having negotiated since April 2017, UTLA and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) could not come to a compromise regarding funding for school counselors, nurses, and librarians, reductions in standardized testing, and promises of smaller class sizes. In response, UTLA members voted to authorize the strike by a 98% majority vote in early September.

About 30,000 UTLA members and over 10,000 parents from over 900 schools went on strike across LA on the morning of the Jan. 14. About 343,369 students were marked absent from class, 70% of total LAUSD students. Later that day, about 50,000 strikers marched to the LAUSD headquarters in downtown L.A. for a rally.

After six days of striking, on Jan. 22, 81% of UTLA members voted to ratify a tentative three-year agreement between the union and the district.

“The hardest moment was the uncertainty of how long it would last. Driving to school on Monday, the first day of the strike, I was really worried, thinking ‘wow, this is really happening!’ Both my husband and I are teachers, so not knowing how much we were going to lose was scary. However, even with both of us losing our paychecks for an indefinite amount of time, not going on strike was NEVER a consideration. The rain made the whole experience exponentially harder. Holding strike signs and umbrellas and wearing raincoats and rain ponchos and gloves and capturing it all on camera was exasperating bc, you know, only two hands,” Reinhart said.

According to the LAUSD-UTLA agreement, there will be an immediate reduction of 7 students in grades 4-12 math and English classes and the complete elimination of Section 1.5 of the current Memorandum of Understanding for Class Size, Counseling, and Teacher Positions, which had previously allowed the district to ignore all class size averages and caps.

Additionally, the agreement outlines a 3% salary increase, the hiring of 300 full-time nurses and 82 full-time librarians over two school years, and the hiring of 17 full-time counselors by Oct. 1, 2019. In terms of testing, a joint UTLA/LAUSD committee will be created to develop a plan to reduce the number of assessments by 50%.

“I hope...we continue to elect pro-public and not pro-charter board members. I hope the District hires superintendents who care about public school education as a philosophy and make creating public schools better by allocating the correct resources towards that effort,” Reinhart said.