Kaiser Permanente and Unions Reach Tentative Agreement One Week After Strike

Kaiser Permanente and a coalition of unions representing roughly a third of its workforce have reached a tentative contract agreement, a week after tens of thousands of workers walked off the job in protest.

The tentative deal, announced Friday morning on social media,was struck amid escalating pressure from the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, which represents more than 85,000 workers at Kaiser hospitals and clinics across the country.

Both Kaiser Permanente, which is based in Oakland, and SEIU United Healthcare Workers West, the biggest member of the coalition, said they were excited to have reached an agreement and thanked Acting U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su for her involvement.

“Su was instrumental in advancing talks and helping to facilitate a successful conclusion to these negotiations,” said Sarah Levesque, secretary-treasurer of OPEIU Local 2, another union in the coalition whose members include Kaiser optometrists and pharmacists.

The tentative agreement includes a 21% increase in wages over four years, which labor leaders said would improve employee retention;phasing in a $25-per-hour minimum wage for coalition workers in California and a $23-per-hour minimum in other states; “protective terms” with regard to outsourcing; and initiatives to improve staffing issues, including streamlining hiring practices, according to statements released Friday by the coalitionand by Kaiser.

Last week, more than 75,000 Kaiser employees went on strike in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Virginia and Washington, D.C., in what labor leaders described as the biggest strike by healthcare workers in U.S. history. In most states, the strike lasted three days; in some areas it was a single day.

Among the wide range of workers who went on strike were licensed vocational nurses, X-ray technicians, surgical technicians, phlebotomists, medical assistants, pharmacy technicians and respiratory therapists, as well as support staff such as housekeepers and food service workers.

Workers said they were protesting “bad faith bargaining” by Kaiser executives as the unions negotiated over wages and other issues that labor leaders faulted for a chronic staffing crisis that strained employees and jeopardized patient care. Unions also said the raises Kaiser was offering wouldn’t keep up with the rising cost of living.

Kaiser leaders said they were trying to reach an agreement in good faith and argued that the organization had been working to address the effects of a national crunch on healthcare staffing, successfully hitting a target to hire 10,000 new employees represented by the coalition.

Days after the initial strike ended, the unions warned that another, even bigger strike could be in the works from Nov. 1 to Nov. 8, after a union contract covering workers in the Seattle area expires.

The tentative deal, if ratified, is expected to avert that action, and Kaiser said the unions had withdrawn notices for the November strike.Workers plan to start voting on Oct. 18, the coalition said Friday.The agreement would last four years and be retroactive to Oct. 1.

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

23,000 Kaiser Workers in Southern California Prepare for 3-Day Strike

The two sides have until 6 a.m. Wednesday to forge a contract before the walkout begins

More than 75,000 Kaiser Permanente workers, including 23,000 in Southern California, are poised to launch the biggest healthcare worker strike in U.S. history beginning Wednesday, Oct. 4 if the two sides fail to reach a labor agreement.

The Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions and the healthcare giant have until 6 a.m. Wednesday to forge an 11th-hour contract before a three-day walkout begins.

The contracts for thousands of employees ranging from nurses to ER techs, respiratory therapists, dietary workers and home health aides expired Saturday, Sept. 30. A walkout will affect scores of Kaiser hospitals and facilities in California, including 23 facilities in Southern California, in addition to Colorado, Oregon and southwest Washington.

Also see: What to know if you’re a Kaiser member

Kaiser, which serves 9.4 million members in California, said it will keep all hospitals and emergency departments open. It operates three dozen hospitals and more than 500 medical offices in the state.

“Our facilities will continue to be staffed by our physicians, trained and experienced managers, and staff,” Kaiser said, adding that it could bring on “professionals contracted to serve in critical care roles specifically for the duration of a strike.”

Replacement workers began filtering into San Diego-area hotels this week. Kaiser employees told the San Diego Union-Tribune that the healthcare provider ordered a temporary workforce of about 10,000. Kaiser has 60,000 union employees in the state.

In an email to members, the healthcare provider acknowledged it may need to reschedule some non-urgent appointments and procedures.

“We’ll contact you in advance if your appointment needs to be rescheduled,” Kaiser wrote. “It’s possible that you could experience longer wait and hold times during a strike. We apologize for any inconvenience and appreciate your patience.”

Other labor news: $20 minimum wage coming to California fast food workers

The key sticking points in the negotiations have been staffing and wages with the coalition seeking a 25% raise over four years and a $25-per-hour minimum wage for all workers across the U.S. Kaiser in earlier negotiations offered 13%-16% raises over four years depending on the state and a $23 minimum wage for California workers.

The coalition also alleges Kaiser is behind unfair labor practices and unsafe staffing levels, all of which have undermined patient care.

Hollywood update: Late-night TV shows plan their returns after Hollywood writers strike ends

“I see my patients’ frustrations when I have to rush them and hurry on to my next patient,” said Jessica Cruz, a licensed vocational nurse at Kaiser Los Angeles Medical Center. “We’re burning ourselves out trying to do the jobs of two or three people, and our patients suffer.”

Employees are prepared to picket hospitals and other facilities in Los Angeles, Anaheim, Baldwin Park, Moreno Valley, Antelope Valley and the South Bay, among other Southern California locations.

Angelica Mateo, a Kaiser licensed vocational nurse in Pasadena, said she’s ready to walk out.

“Everyone is pumped up,” the 37-year-old West Covina resident said. “No one wants to go on strike, but if this is the only way we can make Kaiser executives listen to us, we’ll do what we have to do. Our coalition represents a third of Kaiser’s workforce, so even a three-day strike will make a huge impact.”

In a statement issued Monday, Kaiser said its goal is to reach a “fair and equitable agreement” that strengthens Kaiser as a “best place to work,” while ensuring affordable and easy-to-access quality patient care.

“A strike is not inevitable, and it is certainly not justified,” management said.

Kaiser acknowledged things are tough in the healthcare industry.

“Healthcare is still under great stress,” the company said. “More than 5 million people have left their health care jobs and burnout is at record highs.”

Employees say they’re grappling with skeletal staffing.

In a recent “Crisis in Care” survey of 33,000 Kaiser employees by SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West, two-thirds said they’d seen care delayed or denied due to short staffing.

“We need to keep working together to get through this because the reality is that we are still in a health care crisis in this country,” Kaiser said. “Access to care is stretched thin and it will take time to recover as an industry and stabilize the US health care system.”

Kaiser isn’t the only healthcare business facing a strike.

Click here to read the full article in the OC Register

New walkout At Five Hotels in Santa Monica After Talks Stall

Hotel workers at five Santa Monica properties walked off the job early Monday after negotiations stalled last week.

Unite Here Local 11 — which represents thousands of cooks, housekeepers, dishwashers, servers, bellmen and front desk agents in Los Angeles and Orange counties — has been urging hotels to agree to sweeping wage increases given how deeply the housing crisis affects workers.

The union last month urged convention organizers and visitors to “stay away from strike-ready hotels” that haven’t signed new contracts with more than 15,000 workers at some 60 properties.

Unite Here Local 11’s key demand for months had been a $5 immediate hourly wage increase and a $3 boost each subsequent year of the three-year contract, for a total raise of $11. Southern California hotel workers have been on strike on and off since July 2.

At the bargaining session Sept. 21, the union made a new economic proposal lowering that $11 total raise to $10.50, union spokesperson Maria Hernandez said. But the union said talks failed when, after a more than three-hour caucus, the hotel company representatives returned without any counterproposal.

Keith Grossman, an attorney representing a group of Southern California hotel owners and operators, said in an emailed statement Monday that the union’s proposal “only took the parties further apart.”

“Unfortunately, Local 11 made no real movement,” Grossman said. “The union’s offer, its new work stoppages, and its continued call for a boycott, which continues to damage Los Angeles and hurts employees, communicates that the union is not prepared to bargain in good faith. We believe it’s time for the union to engage in real negotiations.”

The bargaining session was the first to be held in nine weeks, he said.

Grossman did not respond to questions about specific issues that cropped up in bargaining.

Grossman has repeatedly criticized the union for failing to reach out and resume talks. The union has said it is firm on its wage proposal and that the hotel bargaining group’s wage offers have fallen far short.

Peter Hillan, spokesperson for the Hotel Assn. of Los Angeles, said the proposal, from the perspective of hotel owners, was a step back because the union moved up the start date of hotel contributions to a health and welfare fund by one month, increasing the overall cost of the contract. “That’s a takeaway from where we were earlier,” Hillan said.

German Martinez, who, the union alleged in a labor complaint, was among workers tackled at a picket line in August at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows, said in a union news release Monday morning that “it was disrespectful to see our employer not even address or apologize to us, and instead come back with no offer.”

Martinez has been a dishwasher at the Fairmont Miramar for 34 years. “We will do what we have to do until we get the fair contract we deserve,” he said.

Although workers authorized a strike earlier this summer, they aren’t walking off the job at all properties at once. Instead, they are engaged in rolling work stoppages in which workers at a cluster of hotels walk out for a few days at a time.

Unite Here Local 11 officials have described it as a “strategic decision” to “keep the hotels on their toes and guessing.” The approach also helps the workers’ finances.

Click here to read the full article at the LA Times

Some of California’s Best-Paid Public Employees Say They’re Ready to Strike. Here’s Why

Some of California’s highest-paid public employees are in an intensifying labor battle with the Newsom administration over staffing shortages at state prisons and hospitals that workers say endanger patients and staff.

The union representing doctors and psychiatrists working in California correctional facilities said that 91% of voting members authorized a strike Monday. Non-competitive salaries, strenuous working conditions and an overreliance on higher-paid contracted doctors, make it difficult to hire staff physicians, said Dr. Stuart Bussey, president of the umbrella Union of American Physicians and Dentists.

“We’d like to settle this thing without (striking), but our members are prepared to act,” Bussey said.

A strike authorization does not mean workers will not show up to work, although it could lead to a strike. Negotiations began in March, and the union’s contract expired July 1. The state and its physicians remain “very far apart,” Bussey said.

The California Department of Human Resources told CalMatters it “does not comment on ongoing negotiations.”

The biggest sticking point is salaries. Though doctors and psychiatrists pull down between $285,000 and $343,000 annually, according to California Correctional Health Care Services, temporary contracted workers make twice as much, said Dr. Nader Wassef, psychiatrist and chief of staff at Napa State Hospital. 

“I am not going to claim poverty. What I’m trying to say is if we plan on getting trained, qualified psychiatrists to treat these patients, we are not going to get any because we are not competitive,” Wassef said. 

The vacancy rate among on-site psychiatrists exceeded 50% in June, according to court documents filed by the state in an ongoing lawsuit over prison conditions and prisoner safety. Among all psychiatrists, including telehealth providers, the vacancy rate was 35%.

More than 20% of primary care doctor positions are vacant, California Correctional Health Care Services told CalMatters in an unsigned statement Tuesday. The agency did not respond to questions about contractor pay.  

Labor strife during budget crunch

The strike authorization comes as the Newsom administration faces a battery of difficult contract negotiations, all in the midst of a $31 billion budget deficit

Increasingly, state workers say salaries don’t cover basic needs with inflation and the cost of housing cutting deeply into paychecks. In July, contracts expired for the state’s two largest unions — SEIU Local 1000 and the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. They represent more than 125,000 workers, and SEIU is demanding double-digit raises. The union representing state scientists is also demanding salary increases commensurate with privately employed peers.

The state is offering the prison doctors’ union a 2% raise for each of the next three years, which members say will not be enough to help with recruiting and retaining doctors. The union wants at least a 15% raise in the first year of the new contract. 

The prison doctor’s union is small, representing roughly 1,300 employees, but it is the “linchpin of California’s correctional medical system,” Bussey said. Doctors are responsible for assessing patients daily, writing prescriptions, overseeing drug treatment, providing behavioral and mental health interventions and giving court testimony.

“I am not going to claim poverty. What I’m trying to say is if we plan on getting trained, qualified psychiatrists to treat these patients, we are not going to get any because we are not competitive.”DR. NADER WASSEF, PSYCHIATRIST AND CHIEF OF STAFF AT NAPA STATE HOSPITAL

Wassef, who has worked at Napa State Hospital for 13 years, said working in a correctional medical facility is more challenging than working in a typical hospital. 

“Our patients are really very sick. I have patients that have been in the hospital 20 or 30 years,” Wassef said. “They become violent, some are in restraints… The patient population puts higher demand than what is in the community hospital.”

Wassef said his hospital has not been fully staffed since 2014. It has a 45% vacancy with 12 open positions.

Contract prison doctors paid more

Ten of those positions at Napa are filled by temporary contractors who are paid twice the hourly rate of staff doctors. 

Bussey said the comparatively low take-home pay shows the state knows what a competitive salary looks like and has the money to foot the bill. The state spends approximately $100 million per year on contracted physicians, he said. Contractors do not get the benefits and pensions state workers do, but the pay differential makes it easy for staff members to quit and return as higher-paid contractors, Wassef said.  

He said five psychiatrists recently quit staff jobs at Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk to work as contracting physicians instead. 

The physician shortage in prisons also makes it difficult for the state to meet court-imposed staffing mandates that have been in place in state prisons for more than two decades.

In March, a U.S District Court judge for California’s Eastern District issued the state a $1,000 per day fine for failing to implement appropriate suicide prevention measures in state prisons over the past eight years, including reducing the psychiatrist and case manager vacancy rate to 10% or below. That 10% benchmark was originally set by a judge in 2002. More than one-third of state prisoners have serious mental health disorders, according to court documents.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

Thousands of SoCal Hotel Workers Go On Strike

The union representing thousands of workers employed at major hotels across Los Angeles and Orange counties said Sunday its members are now on strike. 

“This morning, thousands of cooks, room attendants, dishwashers, servers, bellmen, and front desk agents at multiple properties walked out on the largest multi-hotel strike in the local’s history,” a statement from UNITE HERE Local 11, the labor union representing more than 32,000 hospitality workers in Southern California and Arizona, said. 

“For 14 years I saw how my mother worked as a housekeeper and fought hard to raise me. I am striking because it is my turn to fight for a better future for me and my son,” said Jennifer Flores, front desk supervisor at the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown.

According to the union, hotel workers in June voted 96% in favor of authorizing a strike. 

The union is seeking to create a hospitality workforce housing fund, in addition to better wages, healthcare benefits, pension and safer workloads. 

Click here to read the full article in FoxNews11

California Grocery Workers Vote On Strike Authorization

Thousands of southern and central California grocery workers started voting Monday on whether to authorize their union to call a strike against several major supermarket chains.

About 47,000 workers at hundreds of Ralphs, Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions stores are eligible to vote this week. Results are expected to be released on March 27.

The possible strike would involve grocery clerks, meat cutters, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians represented by seven locals of the United Food and Commercial Workers.

Negotiations with Ralphs, owned by Kroger, and Albertsons, owner of Albertsons, Vons and Pavilions stores, ended without agreement before the latest three-year contracts expired March 6.

The union said the next day that the companies’ wage proposal amounted to a 60-cent increase that was “shockingly low” and well below workers’ cost-of-living needs. Employees were asking for a $5-an-hour raise, among other proposals.

“Both companies have refused to agree to expand safety committees in the stores, and have yet to negotiate meaningful health and welfare benefits,” a United Food and Commercial Workers statement said.

The union said that during the final day of negotiations it emphasized the essential role grocery workers played during the coronavirus pandemic.

The union said bargaining committee member Erlene Molina, a Ralphs employee, told company negotiators: “We saw how people were acting like the world was ending, but we could not stay home. We knew that we had an obligation to our community, so we showed up every day.”

The Los Angeles Times reported that a Ralphs statement said the vote creates “unnecessary concern for our associates and communities, at a time when we should be coming together in good faith bargaining to find solutions and compromise. At Ralphs, we remain focused on settling a deal with the UFCW.”

Albertsons Companies said in a statement that the goal of the negotiation is “to provide our employees with a competitive total compensation package of wages, health, welfare and pension benefits.”

Click here to read the full article at AP News

Threat of Sacramento Teacher Strike Spurs Criticism

Charter schoolTeachers in the Sacramento City Unified School District have authorized a strike, hoping to follow in the footsteps of teachers in Los Angeles Unified and Oakland Unified and secure substantial raises after a brief walkout.

But in key ways, the dynamics appear different. In Los Angeles and Oakland, the public and the local media were clearly sympathetic. Teachers had not had significant raises in years, and with the cost of housing going up arguably have lost purchasing power in recent years.

In Sacramento, however, the argument that the local school district simply can’t afford raises because of the huge long-term increase in pension costs and loss in state funding because of declining enrollment has resonated far more than similar warnings did in Los Angeles and Oakland. Coverage in regular and social media has repeatedly emphasized three points:

  • The Sacramento City Teachers Association secured an 11 percent raise for most members in September 2017 after threatening a strike. The Sacramento County Office of Education warned at the time that without significant cuts, the district faced fiscal disaster. But the local teachers union has rejected calls to reduce the cost of health benefits that the state Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) says are the most generous in the Sacramento region.
  • The warning from school officials that even without having to provide new raises, the district faces a $35 million hole in a nearly $400 million annual budget and is on track to run out of money in November. At that point, under state law, the district could seek an emergency loan from the state Legislature, but on the condition that it accept an appointed administrator to make key financial decisions going forward, taking away most of the school board’s and Superintendent Jorge Aguilar’s powers. The primary goal of hose decisions would be ensuring the district pays back the state loan.
  • The fact that the four other employee unions in Sacramento City Unified have sided with Aguilar’s warning that a raise could seal state control of the school district for a decade or more, as has happened in other California districts that have been unable to pay their bills. They don’t buy the teachers union claim that the district has failed to honor the contract it signed in 2017, thus making a strike necessary even though state law says such a strike would be illegal since the teachers are still under contract.

Writing Monday, Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton warned the teachers union that it risked disaster not just for the district and its 42,000 students but for a city that has built up civic momentum in recent years under Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

“Sacramento’s efforts to sell itself as a place for companies to invest would be damaged because a major selling point is good schools,” Breton wrote. “How many investment opportunities would be lost if Sacramento became known as the city whose schools were bankrupt?”

Aguilar arrived in 2017 at the district and is given good marks in most circles for his determination to avoid financial disaster. But a FCMAT audit released in December pointed out a vast array of problems in Sacramento City’s management that dated back many years. It cited incompetence and poor communications by the district’s business team and a failure to properly analyze budget data that indicated the headaches to come.

Union leaders say these management failings are not their responsibility and should not be held against their push for better pay.

The union’s hope that a strike authorization vote would lead to new concessions hasn’t happened so far. A union statement said the strike was coming “at a date likely in the next month.”

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Is it time for California’s taxpayers to go on strike?

Tax reformAround California, public school teachers are on strike seeking more pay, better benefits and less competition from charter schools. They are also demanding that the rest of us pay higher taxes. Indeed, as part of the agreement that ended the strike in Los Angeles, teachers forced a concession out of the school district to officially support the partial repeal of Proposition 13 as it applies to business properties. That would have the effect of raising California property taxes as much as $11 billion annually and would surely accelerate the well-documented business flight out of California.

It’s not as though Californians are currently under-taxed. With the highest income tax rate, the highest state sales tax rate and second highest gas tax in America, it’s tough to make that argument.

So, I’m curious as to what would happen if, in reaction to the teachers’ strikes in L.A., Oakland and Sacramento, taxpayers decided to go on strike? The media seems obsessed with large, public demonstrations of crowds wracked with angst and victimhood. School districts lose millions of dollars when teachers go on strike because it impacts the Average Daily Attendance figures that provide the basis for disbursing tax dollars. But if taxpayers went on strike, how much more would they lose?

The reaction to a taxpayer strike would surely invoke claims that taxpayers are greedy, anti-education heathens. But, in reality, the vast majority of taxpayers are very much pro-education. They just don’t like the product they’re forced to pay for.

Let’s first dispel the urban legend that Proposition 13 “starved” education in the Golden State.

To read the entire column, please click here.

Modest Strike Settlement Nonetheless Puts LAUSD in Even Worse Financial Shape

Charter schoolOne of the grievances expressed by the union during their recent strike against Los Angeles Unified School District was that, according to them, charter schools are draining funds from public schools. This assertion, repeated uncritically by major news reports on the strike, does not stand up to reason.

Public schools in California receive government funding based on student attendance. Since one of the other primary grievances of the union was overcrowded classrooms, it would be reasonable to conclude that LAUSD schools are not underfunded, but overfunded. There should be plenty of money, but there’s not. LAUSD is teetering on insolvency, and the strike settlement agreement is going to make their financial challenges even worse.

Charter Schools Outperform LAUSD’s Unionized Schools

The reason LAUSD is running out of money has little or nothing to do with charter schools. It has to do with inefficient use of funds. A study conducted by the California Policy Center in 2015 calculated the per student cost in LAUSD’s traditional public high schools to be $15,372 per year. The same study evaluated 26 charter high schools and middle schools located within LAUSD’s geographic boundaries, and found their cost per student to be $10,649 per year.

At the same time as LAUSD spends far more than charters per student, they do a poorer job educating their students. The same 2015 study, “Analyzing the Cost and Performance of LAUSD Traditional High Schools and LAUSD Alliance Charter High Schools,” compared the educational outcomes at nine charter high schools to nine traditional public high schools in LAUSD. These 18 schools were selected based on their having nearly identical student demographics to LAUSD’s traditional public high schools – i.e., the same percentage of English learners, learning disabled students, and low income students. The charter schools clearly outperformed LAUSD in every important metric – SAT scores, graduation rates and college admissions.

There are two critical issues here, neither of which appear to have been discussed in the strike negotiations. One, why do charter schools manage to educate students for so much less than traditional public schools, and two, why do they manage to do it for so much less money?

The answer to the first may be hard for the union leadership and their supporters to accept: These charter schools are able to better educate students because they are not subject to union work rules. Incompetent teachers can be dismissed. If layoffs are necessary, the best teachers can be retained, instead of the most senior. What is more teachers do not acquire “tenure,” a job-for-life right negotiated by the teachers union despite its origins in the university with the purpose of protecting scientific inquiry, not protecting bad teachers in K-12 schools.

There are a host of reasons charter schools don’t cost as much as traditional public schools. Much of it has to do with teacher compensation. The average base pay in charter schools is less than in public schools, as is the average cost of benefits. But the “other pay,” typically taking the form of performance incentives, is higher in the charter schools. An interesting compilation, using data taken from Transparent California, estimated the bonus pay in the charter networks within LAUSD (Green Dot and Alliance) to average two to three times the average in LAUSD’s traditional public schools. This disparity, wherein compensation in charter schools is linked to the effectiveness of individual teachers, undoubtedly also helps explain why they achieve better educational outcomes.

The Cost of Benefits is Breaking LAUSD

LAUSD’s cost of employee benefits increased from $1.54 billion in 2015-16 to $1.92 billion in 2016-17, an increase of 25 percent, when the total employee headcount only increased by six-tenths of one percent. The reason for the increase is simple, and immutable: LAUSD, like many public agencies throughout California, has fallen woefully behind in its funding of retirement benefits, and they have reached a point where they must dramatically increase payments in order to catch up.

Staggering Pension Debt: LAUSD now carries an unfunded pension liability of $6.8 billion. Just paying down that debt over twenty years should be costing LAUSD over $600 million per year, not including the normal contribution they have to pay each year as their active employees earn additional pension benefits. As it is, including the normal contribution, in 2018 LAUSD “only” paid $584 million to CalSTRS and CalPERS.

The financial sickness relating to pensions is a statewide problem. CalSTRS, the pension system that collects and funds pension benefits for LAUSD teachers, as of June 30, 2017, was only 62 percent fundedSixty-two percent. CalPERS, the pension system that collects and funds pension benefits for LAUSD support personnel, is only slightly better off financially than CalSTRS. It has already announced it will roughly double the required employer contributions between now and 2025. CalSTRS, if it wants to survive, will likely follow suit.

Retiree Healthcare Costs: If anything, the financial challenges surrounding LAUSD’s other primary retirement obligation, retiree health benefits, are even more daunting. LAUSD’s OPEB unfunded liability (OPEB stands for “other post employment benefits,” primarily retirement health insurance) has now reached a staggering $14.9 billion. Like many public agencies, LAUSD does not pre-fund their retiree health benefits. In 2018, retiree healthcare cost the district nearly $400 million. A 2016 study prepared for LAUSD estimated that cost to double in the next ten years, and to nearly quadruple within the next twenty years.

LAUSD does face declining enrollment, something they claim is exacerbated by diversion of students into charter schools. Total enrollment in 2013-14 was 621,796, and by 2017-18 it had declined somewhat to 591,411. As a percentage of total enrollment during that period, unaffiliated charter enrollment rose from 15 percent to 19 percent of all students. But LAUSD nonetheless contends with bursting classrooms. LAUSD’s traditional, unionized public schools are still collecting revenue based on attendance that stretches the capacity of their facilities. If they are still attempting to teach more students than their facilities can handle, they can’t blame charters for their financial problems.

There is, however, an indirect financial threat that charters represent to traditional unionized public schools that is very serious indeed. The problem is not that charter enrollment steals money from LAUSD’s classrooms, because the classrooms are full. More students might bring in more money, but they would also require more classrooms. The problem is the growth of charters shrinks the revenue base LAUSD needs to pay the costs for retirees.

Charter Schools Dilute LAUSD’s Revenue Base Necessary to Pay Retiree Benefits

As LAUSD’s traditional unionized public schools contend with burgeoning per-retiree costs, every student that they lose to charters represents less available revenue to feed the pension funds. Every student lost to charter schools decreases LAUSD’s ratio of active workers to retirees.

These compounding effects are similar to what faced the auto industry back in the 1980s – retirees collecting expensive benefits, supported by companies with fewer workers and lower revenues. The difference, of course, is that public schools, and public sector unions, do not contend with the irresistible reality of global markets. Instead their ultimate solution will be to call for higher taxes.

This prediction is borne out by the strike settlement, which called for more hiring of teachers and support personnel, retroactive raises, and nothing in the form of benefit reductions or higher employee contributions to their benefits through payroll withholding.

The other key victory for the union, an aggressive stance by the LAUSD Board against any new charter schools, is a rear guard action to preserve the revenue base necessary to pay retiree benefits. Stop the charters, or reform pensions and retiree healthcare formulas. It was one or the other. But all this war on charters does is buy time.

LAUSD Will Eventually Have to Adapt to Financial Reality

Sooner or later, financial reality will strike. LAUSD’s total expenses in 2016-17 were $7.6 billion. Benefits constituted $1.9 billion. Twenty-five percent of all spending. Ten years from now, those benefit costs are likely to double, as the pension fund payments rise to around $1.2 billion, annual OPEB contributions near the $1.0 billion level, and current benefits – which constituted around $900 million in spending in 2016-17 – rise with inflation. Can LAUSD afford to pay current and retiree benefits equal to 40 percent of all spending? Will higher taxes, to enable much higher per student reimbursements – make up the difference?

Financial reform to put LAUSD on a stable financial footing requires benefit reform. Teachers will have to pay, through payroll withholding, a higher percentage of the costs for their current health benefits, their retirement health benefits and their pensions. The alternative is for them to get more state funding for these benefits, or accept lower benefits. Increased state funding is on the way, but it is unlikely it will be sustainable.

There is another solution that bears discussion, which concerns the ratio of teachers to other employees. Based on their own data, LAUSD in 2016-17 had 26,556 classroom teachers, and 33,635 administrators and support personnel. Why is it necessary to have so many non-teachers? Why is it that between 2016-17, and the year before, the number of classroom teachers declined by 271, while the number of non-teaching employees grew by 639? In this regard, charter schools also offer a lesson. Just as they don’t spend precious funds on employee benefits that dwarf what private sector professionals typically expect, charters also don’t spend as much money on support personnel.

Not all charter schools succeed academically, but the ones that do offer examples that LAUSD and other traditional public school districts could emulate, and would emulate, if it weren’t for the intransigence of the teachers union. In all critical areas, from benefits reform to tenure, dismissal policies, and layoff criteria, the teachers union fights change. They have declared war on charters, and just won a major battle in LAUSD. But like the auto industry in Detroit back in the 1980s, unionized public schools need to adapt to changing times.

This article originally appeared on the website of the California Policy Center.

Oakland teachers vote to authorize strike

OaklandOAKLAND — An overwhelming number of voting teachers authorized the Oakland teachers union to call a strike if salary negotiations break down with the school district, which already is facing another major disruption in the form of a $30 million budget deficit.

The 3,000 members of the Oakland Education Association voted from Jan. 29 through Feb. 1. Of the 84 percent of union members voting, 95 percent approved authorizing union leaders to call a strike if necessary, union president Keith Brown announced Monday.

“This is a clear message that our members are ready to fight for the schools our students deserve,” Brown said. No date was set, but the union expects if a strike were to occur it would happen by the end of the month.

Oakland Unified spokesman John Sasaki said Monday the district hopes that it doesn’t come to that. Though substitutes would be brought in to cover for striking teachers, a strike could be very disruptive to students, especially those preparing for end-of-the-year exams. …

Click here to read the full article from the East Bay Times