38 LA Unified teachers, union leaders arrested while protesting layoffs

Leaders of United Teachers Los Angeles followed through today on their promise to engage in acts of civil disobedience after an L.A. Superior Court judge ruled illegal the union's one-day strike. To protest planned teacher layoffs the union blocked the street in front of L.A. Unified headquarters. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez says 38 union members were arrested in what they called an act of civil disobedience.

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: The day began with teachers, students, and parents picketing before the first class period. After the school bell rang, teachers and students went inside. A couple of hours later, members of United Teachers Los Angeles congregated in front of school district headquarters on Beaudry Avenue.

[Chanting]

Guzman-Lopez: A chartered bus pulled up, and most of the union's officers stepped off, and marched up the steps of school district headquarters with a couple dozen union members. At the building's glass doors they faced a row of police officers who wouldn't let them inside.

[Chanting]

Guzman-Lopez: Protestors quieted and, one by one, they stood and spoke about their anger toward the 2,500 planned teacher layoffs. Middle school English teacher Nicole Matievic was the first to stand.

Nicole Matievic: None of us are here for the money, we're here because we believe in our kids and they deserve the attention in every classroom, and at a 40-1 ratio, that's not going to happen, and our kids deserve more, our community deserves more.

Guzman-Lopez: Then the group walked down the stairs, stopped in the middle of the street, locked arms, and sat down. Minutes later, a police officer warned the group that the action was an unlawful assembly.

Police officer (on bullhorn): If you do not do so, you may be arrested or subject to other police action. Other police action may include the use of less lethal munitions which could cause significant risk of serious injury to those who remain.

Guzman-Lopez: Rosa Jimenez heard the officer loud and clear from the circle. She's taught social studies at Los Angeles High School for two years. This year, she received a layoff notice.

Rosa Jimenez: I feel proud, I feel empowered to be here. I'm ready. I'm not afraid. I'm not afraid. I'm willing to get arrested for my students. This is for our communities. I'm tired of them being attacked, and that's why I'm here.

Guzman-Lopez: United Teachers Los Angeles President A.J. Duffy surveyed Jimenez and the others and said he's proud of his union members.

A.J. Duffy: Because people are willing to go to jail, to get booked, to get a record, to participate in an action that sends a message to the L.A. community and to parents that teachers and health and human service professionals are going to stand up for their kids, their children, and public education.

Guzman-Lopez: Then officers approached each demonstrator one by one – including Duffy and three union officers – handcuffed them, took down their names, frisked them, and walked them to a waiting police bus with barred windows. Most arrested displayed no visible emotion.

One woman's eyes welled up with tears. Others shouted their criticism of L.A. Unified's school board and the superintendent. Afterward, Superintendent Ramon Cortines said he respects the union's action, but added his opinion that the arrests tarnish the school district's image.

Ramon Cortines: Even though people, and it's not just teachers, it's parents, and it is administration, do not like many of the cuts that I have made, I don't know other ways to keep this district from the brink of a catastrophe.

Guzman-Lopez: How that economic catastrophe unfolds and who's affected is up for negotiation. Cortines said union leaders approached him about discussing modifying the planned cuts in exchange for teachers' union concessions.

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