While UTLA Strikes—UTLA Leaders, LAUSD Settle

23 Jan
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Teachers, students and community allies, Tuesday, Jan. 22, picketing outside of Phineas Banning High School in the Wilmington community of the City of Los Angeles; photo by Barry Saks

A couple hours before the news conference announcing a tentative agreement was reached between the United Teachers of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District, the teacher strike continued into its sixth and last day, on Tuesday, Jan. 22, with students and community members picketing with the teachers, and among the schools being picketed was Phineas Banning High School in the working-class community of Wilmington, a few miles north of the Port of Los Angeles.

Soon after daylight, the picketing began and after a short while at least a hundred people were picketing in front of the school in a circle. Slightly north of the picketing were a couple of school buses. Each had a handful of students stepping down onto the sidewalk.

Among the picketers was Lucia Rodriguez, who teaches English for 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grades at the high school. Rodriguez, who has been teaching 18 years, before the picketing began, said she was a member of the Contract Action Team and the school had about 120 teachers with all of them on strike. She also said it was good the teachers had a chance to vote on the tentative agreement while on strike because “what if we don’t like the agreement that they reached and we already came back to work.” She added, “It’s fundamentally democratic to do that (vote) while we are out.”

Also, among those out on strike and in support was Dan Castillo, who’s a history teacher at the high school. Castillo was with his two daughters—Daniela Castillo, who’s in the 9th grade at Banning and Dahlia Castillo, who’s in the 12th grade also at Banning. Daniela said, “We support him because we believe in the cause as well. She defined the cause as “more nurses, more funding for our schools, more counselors and librarians, smaller class sizes, control of charter schools and co-locations.” Dahlia said, “We know why we are here and we…fully support our all teachers and all the staff that’s out here with us….and we know that public education is important.”

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On far left, is Dan Castillo, high school history teacher at Phineas Banning High School, the father of Daniela Castillo, who is a 9th grade student at Banning, holding bullhorn, and to the right is Dahlia Castillo, the other daughter of Dan Castillo, a 12th grade student at Banning, leading chants; photo by Barry Saks, Tuesday, Jan. 22.

Dan Castillo, 45, who’s been teaching for 23 years, said he was a product of public education. He added, “I really believe this is ground zero for a war for public education. I don’t think it is just about Los Angeles. I think with the growing charter school movement. I believe there is a serious threat to public education right now and I believe we have to win this war because if we lose here in L.A., they we’ll repeat this formula nationwide.”

While picketing, the teachers, students and community allies chanted: UTLA, UTLA; I don’t know but it’s been said, “Billionaires on the Board of Ed;” Everywhere we go people want to know who we are. So we tell them, “We are the mighty, mighty union, fighting for justice and for education;” Tell me what democracy looks like. “This is what democracy looks like;” We teach, we care, our contract should be fair; Look up, look down, Wilmington is a union town.

Before retirement, Barry Saks was a Service Employees International Union Local 660 (now 721) Shop Steward. He was at different times the Vice Chair and Chair of the bargaining units he was in.

UTLA to Strike LAUSD

12 Jan

United Teachers of Los Angeles, representing more than 33,000 teachers, is poised to strike Monday, Jan. 14, the Los Angeles Unified School District, which UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl recently characterized, as “a strike for our students….for our schools, for educational justice, for racial justice, and to defend the future of public education.”

The district’s website, on Friday, Jan 11, said, “We are extremely disappointed…UTLA has rejected Los Angeles Unified’s revised offer without proposing any counter offer. UTLA has refused to continue contract negotiations. More than 48 hours remain until Monday when UTLA plans to strike, and we implore UTLA to reconsider. A strike will harm the students, families and communities we serve, and we have a responsibility to resolve the situation without a strike.”

Meanwhile, an email in part from the union, also on Friday, said, “Today, just as LAUSD representatives were passing out a new proposal, UTLA bargaining team members began to see on social media that (Superintendent Austin) Beutner was holding a press conference downstairs to review the same proposal. More disrespect – Beutner saying he’s able to bargain “around the clock” but skipping the last two sessions. More bargaining in the media rather than meeting face-to-face with educators (sic).  More lies about what the district has and what the district can do.”

An email from the union sent Thursday, Jan. 10, said that a Superior Court ruled the union could strike.  An email the previous day from the union said it was postponing the strike to avoid confusion.

Scott Mandel, who is the chair of UTLA (San Fernando) Valley East Area, on Monday, Jan. 7, said, “I went through the ’89 strike 29 years ago, we are so much better prepared now than we were then.  Our teachers are more unified now than we were then.”

Mandel, who is also the chair of the union’s National Board Certified Teachers Committee and has a Ph.D. in Education: Curriculum and Development from the University of Southern California, added if there were a strike, it wouldn’t be about money.  He said the union was asking for 6.5 percent and the Los Angeles Unified School District had already agreed to 6 percent.  He said it would be “ridiculous” to strike over the difference.  A strike would be about support for the students.  The union’s demands are for a “class size reduction,” for “a nurse in every school, every day,” for “a full-time librarian in every secondary school,” for more counselors, for the elimination of all testing that isn’t federal or state mandated and for “the regulation of charter growth.”

The UTLA Valley East Chair, who’s been teaching for 34 years at LAUSD, ended passionately.  He said, “Beutner wants this strike, especially after (the) Janus (Decision).  Beutner thinks he can destroy the teachers’ union and turn this into a portfolio district, where schools are given over to privateers and charters…The heart and soul of public schools in LA Unified is on the line right now…This is our Armageddon.”

Kyle Stokes of KPCC, on Wednesday, Jan 2, interviewed Beutner, who became Superintendent in May 2018 and according to the district’s website, a business executive, served as First Deputy Mayor of the City of Los Angeles and publisher of the Los Angeles Times.

The Superintendent said, “We all want the same set of things.  We all want to make sure everyone, who works in the schools, is better paid.  We all want to work to reduce class size and hire more nurses, counselors and librarians.  The challenge is how we do it with the resources we have.”

On the existing contract provision giving the district discretion on class size, the Superintendent said, “We have said for months and the fact-finder agreed with us is we should eliminate that provision and we need to agree on a new provision….UTLA said eliminate that provision and they will not sit down with us to try to agree on a new provision.”

Beutner, regarding the almost $2 billion reserve, said that almost $200 million had already been spent for raises to bus drivers, cafeteria workers, clerical staff and engineers who keep the air conditioners; that about $300 has been set aside for the 6 percent increase for UTLA members; that about $300 million because of law for certain students, as part of a local control funding program; about $250 million has been sent to schools to be spent at school principals’ discretion; and about $100 million for legal settlement, which he said left $700 million.  He insisted the reserves are being spent.  He said, “From an accounting standpoint, you wind up with some funny accounting because the reserves to pay UTLA members continue to grow.”

He added near the end of the interview the experts have told him the district is spending more than it’s bringing in.

 

A New Year’s Poem: ‘Not a Happy Ending’

29 Dec

The beginning of each new year is a time for personal reflection, which is why many people resolve to change their everyday lives in some manner.  Some go on diets.  Other attempt to quit smoking or whatever they think they need to improve on.

While flying to Los Angeles from Bucharest, I watched a documentary on Roger Ebert, the film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.  I had this refrain in my head: We are our own worse enemies.  Like stream of consciousness, I remembered other occasions of me repeating the refrain.  The poem streamed out without needing much editing.

What follows is my attempt to force people to be a little self-reflective now.

It’s a modern poem, meaning there’s no end rhyme and the only echo are words.


 

We are our own worse enemy.

Some of us eat too much.

Some eat too much red meat.

Some get high on drugs.

Some smoke cigarettes.

Some drink too much and others don’t exercise.

Some almost drank themselves to death, like Roger Ebert, Jack London and Raymond Carver.

Carver quit drinking, smoked like a chimney and died of lung cancer.

Yes, we are our own worse enemy.

The Atheist Who Loved Christmas Eve

22 Dec

If it wasn’t for my aunt Sylvia, the wife of my mother’s brother and my first cousin Wendy, their daughter, my Christmas Eve memories would be much colder and bleaker, or worse nonexistent.  These two women organized the Christmas Eve parties I have fond memories of.

As a child, as long as I could remember my Christmas Eves were always the same.  My father would drive my mother, my brother, sister, and me to somewhere behind the Santa Monica Airport in Los Angeles, where my aunt and uncle’s family lived.

I remember walking the short distance from my parents’ car to my aunt and uncle’s home and feeling the dank air.  Entering their home was always a pleasure, feeling the coziness of their home on Christmas Eve.  Usually a 6-foot or taller Christmas tree, decorated in white or sometimes red, would grace one corner of the living room.  Under the tree, were numerous gifts for my aunt’s immediate family and small gifts for my brother, sister and me.  A fire would be burning in the fireplace.  Sometimes for what seemed like minutes, I would stare at the flames flickering.  I could smell the burning wood and scent of the tree.

The routine was always the same.  Sooner or later after arriving, the two families would eat dinner together, segregated—the adults at one table and the children at theirs.  Six children, three from my family and the three of my aunt and uncle, ate.  Wendy was my aunt and uncle’s middle child.

After dinner, youngest children got the honor of distributing the gifts to the people in the room.  Then the gifts were opened, in reverse order by age.  After the gifts were opened, the families entertained themselves with parlor games or reminiscing or my two female cousins would attempt to entertain by singing and dancing, with catcalls from the young males, particularly me.  My sister recently told me she remembers our aunt dressing up, wearing an ugly Santa Claus mask and chasing the youngsters around the house.

I attended these gatherings through high school–after high school, much less frequently.   Many years passed.  My father died; my mother, my aunt and uncle, my sister and her husband, and my cousin Wendy and her husband moved to Nevada.

By then, my cousin Wendy was teaching and had the responsibility of organizing the Christmas Eve parties.  After many years, My wife Marlene and I attended a couple more.

Wendy knew how to entertain and could match my quick wit.  Two favorite things of hers were giving gag gifts and singing karaoke.  Some of the gag gifts were re-gifted over and over.  I appreciated her low-brow humor.  Once somehow I got a gift of a toy brown cow that dispensed chocolate candy out of its rectum.  Then there was the karaoke.  My cousin made sure everyone participated in the karaoke round.  It was great fun.

My aunt and uncle lived until they were in their 90s.  They died seven years ago.  Then, my cousin died four years later.  Now I only have those memories of Christmas Eve.

Oh, I forgot.  My parents were Ashkenazi Jews.  My uncle called himself an agnostic and I’m the atheist.

I first wrote this personal essay for a journalism class I had at Long Beach City College.  I published it two years ago on my blog.  I’m republishing again this Christmas in remembrance of my first cousin, Wendy Gross-Aeillo.

Barry Saks may be reached at barry@barrysaks.com.

 

Long Beach City Council Passes Motion to Fund Immigration Legal Services for the Undocumented

4 Dec

The Long Beach City Council on Tuesday, Dec. 4, passed a motion to establish the Long Beach Justice Fund, which will be set at $250,000 and administered by the Vera Institute of Justice.

In favor were 1st District Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez, 2nd District Councilwoman Jeanine Pearce, 6th District Councilman Dee Andrews, 7th District Councilman Roberto Uranga, 8th District Councilman Al Austin and Vice Mayor and 9th District Councilman Rex Richardson.

Opposed were 3rd District Councilwoman Suzie Price, 4th District Councilman Daryl Supernaw and 5th District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo.  The three council members who voted against the motion said during the discussion in principle they supported establishing the fund, however, each voted against the motion for different reasons.

The fund will be used to pay for immigration legal services for resident and people working in Long Beach, who earn less than 200 percent of federal poverty level.

 

Long Beach Residents Rally in Solidarity with Central-American Immigrants at US-Mexican Border

30 Nov

 

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Jonathan Solorzano of the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition emcees, Thursday, Nov. 29, the rally in solidarity with Central-American Immigrants at the US-Mexican border; photo by Barry Saks.

While the Long Beach rally in solidarity with the caravan of Central-American immigrants at the United States-Mexican border, was canceled because of wind and rain, about 40 people, on Thursday, Nov. 29, braved the weather at Harvey Milk Promenade Park, 185 E. Third St. to show their solidarity with the migrants and to collect donations for them.

According to the press release issued before the rally, the organizers for the rally were the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition and other community groups.

Jonathan Solorzano, the lead organizer for the LBIRC, emceed.  Solorzano began the rally with the chant: “When immigrants are under attack, what’ll we do?  We’ll stand up and fight back.”  He apologized for the sudden cancelation of the rally and said, however, a short program would follow.  He said, “There was a blatant human rights violation that happened on Sunday, in which the Mexican police attacked the Central-American caravan….This administration (U.S.) has time and time again shown that immigrants south of the border are not welcomed.”

Solorzano introduced the 2nd District Councilwoman Jeanine Pearce.  Pearce said, “I don’t want to target one administration (over another)….We as America has to do right by citizens of the world…. Having a border is one thing.  Having a disagreement on how we go through a process of making sure that people that are seeking asylum, that refugees have a safe place is another thing.  Gassing people at the border is completely unacceptable.”

 

 

Gaby Hernandez, the program manager for the LBIRC, said donations may be delivered to the LBIRC office at 525 E. 7th St., Long Beach until Friday, Nov. 30.

In the same press release, Hernandez said, “Long Beach is against the human rights violations happening at the southern border.  We stand in solidarity with refugees because seeking asylum is their human right.”  “Whether white, black, or brown, we want to join together across our differences and show our support for the refugee community by speaking out on these injustices and collecting essential donations for people in need.”

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Donations collected, Thursday, Nov. 29, at solidarity rally with Central-American immigrants at US-Mexican border; photo by Barry Saks

 

 

Friends of Sabeel of Los Angeles and Orange Counties to Host Educational on Palestine and Israel

7 Nov

Friends of Sabeel of Los Angeles and Orange counties will host an educational conference, which it titled, “No Way to Treat a Palestinian: Gaza, UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) and Jerusalem,” on Saturday, Nov. 17, from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Christ Lutheran Church, 6500 Stearns St., Long Beach, which will feature Donna Baranski-Walker, who is the founder and executive director of the Rebuilding Alliance, a nonprofit organization that helps Palestinian villages build affordable homes and schools.

Barranski-Walker, who was awarded the Medal of Gratitude at Poland’s Gdansk Shipyard in 2010 for her work nearly 30 years before in support of Solidarity, the independent trade union, will speak on the difficulties of working in Gaza.

To visit the Rebuilding Alliance website, click here.

Besides Barranski-Walker speaking, a panel will focus its discussion on Jerusalem.

According to a flyer distributed online before the conference: the conference costs $20, cash at the door; scholarships are available; and inquiries may be sent by email to NW2TAP@gmail.com.

The same flyer listed the conference endorsers as Al-Awda: The Palestine Right of Return Coalition, Episcopal Peace Fellowship/PIN-LA (Palestine-Israel Network), Jewish Voice for Peace, Kairos (propitious moment for action) USA, LA Jews for Peace, ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) SW (Southwest California) Synod Middle East Task Force, PAWA-SC: Palestinian American Women’s Association of Southern California, People for Palestinian-Israeli Justice, Presbyterian Synod JPIC (Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Committee) and the United Methodist Holy Land Task Force.

To view the flyer, click here.

In emails before the conference, Tony Litwinko, who characterized himself as a member of the conference organizing committee, said, “We in Friends of Sabeel LA and Orange County are very concerned about the decision of the Trump administration to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem, but more importantly, in its decision to stop supporting UNRWA and to radically cut support to the Palestinian Authority, impacting educational and health facilities in East Jerusalem and the occupied territories, (w)e offer this conference for the general public in order to educate them about the deep humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the continuing unjust annexation and manipulation of land in the Jerusalem area. We especially welcome people who have recently begun to understand the importance of the struggle for justice in Palestine.”

According to the Friends of Sabeel North America website, FOSNA “supports Sabeel, an ecumenical liberation theology movement founded by Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land. We share Sabeel’s mission to amplify the voice of Palestinian Christians and work with peace builders of all faiths who stand with the oppressed and promote a just peace in Palestine and Israel. FOSNA challenges distortions of the Bible and theologies that lead to racism, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and condemns all acts of violence, whether committed by states, individuals, or groups. We organize and participate in events and nonviolent advocacy campaigns that advance peace and justice for both Palestinians and Israelis.”

To visit the FOSNA website, click here.

Barry Saks is a member of JVP.  He may be reached at barry@barrysaks.com.