By Sharon Bernstein
(Reuters) - Teachers in the massive Los Angeles public school system said they were deadlocked in negotiations with district administrators, a move that will trigger the intervention of mediators and could ultimately lead to a strike.
Despite an offer of a 5 percent raise from the district, the union representing 31,000 teachers and other professional employees said late Wednesday it was holding out for bigger raises for its members, who accepted unpaid days off during the 2007-2009 U.S. recession and have not had an increase in eight years.
"Educators actually saw their pay cut due to furlough days which kept the District afloat," the union said on its website.
The union also wants the district to reduce class sizes more than is currently proposed. It says about 3,000 classes have more than 45 students.
Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Ramon Cortines said in a statement he also viewed the contract negotiations to be at an impasse. The next step is to notify the Public Employment Relations Board that the two sides are deadlocked, triggering a request for state mediation.
If the mediation is not successful, a legal process is set in motion that could ultimately lead to a strike.
The district's contract with the union, United Teachers Los Angeles, expired in 2011 but its terms have remained in effect under a so-called evergreen clause.
“I’ve been disappointed and frustrated by the lack of progress toward an agreement,” Cortines said in a statement posted on the district's website on Wednesday night. “It’s my hope that the appointment of a mediator will lead to an expeditious settlement that ultimately supports our students and the District at large.”
Los Angeles Unified is the second-largest U.S. school district, with more than 640,000 students who live in Los Angeles and 31 other municipalities. Teachers in the district last went on strike in 1989.
Cortines said the gap between what the union is demanding and what the district is offering is $800 million, but he did not say whether that was over one year or for the length of the contract.
He offered to open the district's books to an outside evaluator as proof that it cannot afford to grant educators the 8.5 percent raise that they are asking for.
"Perhaps, with the active participation of a mediator, UTLA will have a sense of urgency, which considers our fiscal reality," the district said on its website.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)