The Slatest

30,000 Take to the Streets in the L.A. Teachers Strike

One demonstrator, holding his fist up in the air and holding an umbrella with his other arm, appears to chant loudly. Those in the crowd around him appear equally enthusiastic.
Demonstrators march through the streets of downtown Los Angeles in the pouring rain on January 14, 2019.
Barbara Davidson/Getty Images

More than 30,000 public school teachers in Los Angeles braved the rain on Monday to launch a districtwide strike, the first there in three decades.

The district, where more than 640,000 students are enrolled, is the second largest in the country. Students were still expected to attend school on Monday, but the schools are running off the work of a few hundred substitute teachers, and classes were expected to be largely disrupted. Many parents kept their children home out of support for the teachers, while some students even skipped class to join in the demonstrations. (While it’s thought the students won’t get real instruction during the duration of the strike, the schools will still serve meals and offer a place where children will be comfortable and supervised—no minor thing in a district where 82 percent of the students come from low-income families.)

The strike, considered an undesirable but necessary step by the teachers, comes after two years of failed negotiations between United Teachers Los Angeles, the union, and the Los Angeles Unified School District to secure a contract with improved pay, caps to class sizes, a reduction in standardized testing, and the hiring of more than 1,000 additional staff. The district made an offer close to that demanded by the teachers on issues of pay, but it was only good for a year. The teachers rejected it, and the strike began.

The strike comes a year after the wave of teacher demonstrations that began in West Virginia and spread across other conservative and less union-friendly states. While L.A. has a longer history of more successful union activity, this strike also differs, as others have noted, in that the district has more than twice as many students as all of West Virginia. And unlike in the statewide strikes last year, where teachers from many school districts picketed their state government, these teachers are feuding only with their single school district’s superintendent and Board of Education—a much more traditional teacher strike.

The day began with teachers picketing their individual schools before heading to a rally downtown. Despite jokes about the city shutting down during rain, tens of thousands of teachers gathered, wearing red, with umbrellas and raincoats.

Some got creative with signs, while others scrawled messages of solidarity on their umbrellas.

And, it being Los Angeles, celebrities took to Twitter to voice their support for the union.

It’s not yet clear how long this strike will last, but it’s being reported that Oakland may see its own strike in the coming weeks. For some, the Los Angeles action appears to raise the possibility of another wave of teacher strikes.