Los Angeles public school teachers went on strike on Monday after 20 months of failed negotiations for higher pay, greater school funding and more support staff.
Unlike many of the teacher strikes that gripped red states in 2018, the LA strike pits the massive United Teachers Los Angeles union against the Los Angeles Unified School District, which runs public schools in the city of Los Angeles and many surrounding communities. The labor dispute reflects a bitter Democratic Party rift on education policy that splits unions and their allies with proponents of charter schools, whose influence on the LA school board has helped precipitate the strike.
A number of high-profile Democratic elected officials have nonetheless come out on the side of Los Angeles teachers, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), who announced her 2020 presidential campaign on Dec. 31, and Sens. Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who are expected to announce presidential bids soon.
Some of the U.S. House’s biggest progressive stars have also declared their support for the city’s teachers union, with Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) and Mark Pocan (Wis.), as well as Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Ro Khanna (Calif.) tweeting their solidarity.
But other Democratic elected officials have been less eager to comment on the strike. In fact, some Democrats who want to diminish the clout of teachers unions, like former Education Secretary Arne Duncan, actually back the city’s school district against the union.
Of the 10 Democrats representing parts of the city of Los Angeles, just Reps. Jimmy Gomez, Brad Sherman, Adam Schiff, Nanette Barragán and Ted Lieu have announced unequivocal support for the teachers union.
“For the first time in 30 years, teachers from the LA Unified School District are on strike, fighting for fair pay, smaller class sizes, and better resourced schools for our kids,” Schiff said in a statement to HuffPost. “When we fail to support our public school teachers, we fail our students too. I stand with our teachers every step of the way.”
“To every teacher on strike today, I am with you,” he added. “I urge both LA Unified and United Teachers Los Angeles to negotiate and reach a comprehensive agreement to end the strike for the benefit of families, children, and our teachers.”
Barragán cited the importance of her own education in LA public schools in explaining why she stood with teachers.
“It is crucial that we listen and acknowledge their concerns and pleas to address the inequalities and deficiencies that prevent members of [United Teachers Los Angeles] from serving our children to their fullest abilities,” she said in a statement to HuffPost.
Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), who represents communities in Los Angeles County with students in the affected school district, said that as a former teacher, she knew the importance of “proper resources.”
“I am so disappointed that there could not be an agreement reached before this strike,” Chu said in a statement to HuffPost.
“But as a former teacher myself, I know how critical it is to have the proper resources that will give every student the ability to succeed in their education,” she added, noting the need for smaller class sizes, more nurses and mental health counselors for students, and fair wages for teachers.
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, another Democratic representative of the nation’s second-largest city, encouraged the two sides in the strike to “find common ground” that accommodates students, their families and teachers.
Other prominent California Democrats likewise urged conciliation.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D), who is rumored to be considering a presidential run, expressed his disappointment that talks had broken down between teachers and the school district.
“I strongly urge both parties to consider returning to the negotiating table for talks over the weekend for the sake of our children, our teachers, and our schools,” he said on Friday as a strike loomed.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) issued a similar statement on Monday, lamenting that the “impasse is disrupting the lives of too many kids and their families.”
Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D), an outspoken supporter of public charter schools, which are a point of contention in ongoing labor talks, declared that “both sides need to come together,” and argued that the state had resources the city lacked to improve school funding.
HuffPost reached out to the remaining four House members from LA, as well as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii). Castro and Gabbard have announced plans to run for president. Thus far, none of them has commented publicly on the matter.
Kevin de León, the former California state Senate president who unsuccessfully challenged Feinstein from the left in November, met with striking teachers to express solidarity. Prior to entering politics, de León served as a teachers union organizer.