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UCLA Lab School faculty demand fair bargaining, labor practices in walkout

UCLA Lab School demonstration teachers represented by the University Council-American Federation of Teachers walked out Wednesday morning in protest of unfair labor and bargaining practices by school leadership and the University of California. (Courtesy of Sylvia Gentile)

By Russell Ahmed and Constanza Montemayor

Jan. 25, 2023 6:09 p.m.

This post was updated Jan. 26 at 10:22 p.m.

UCLA Lab School faculty held a walkout on Wednesday, demanding fair bargaining practices from the school’s leadership and the University of California.

UCLA’s Lab School is a pre-K through sixth grade institution that functions under UCLA. The school educates children ages 4 to 12 and serves as a place for innovation in approaches to teaching, learning and child development, according to its website. 

About 40 members of various unions, including United Auto Workers, United Teachers Los Angeles, and University Council-American Federation of Teachers – which represents non-Academic Senate faculty and librarians working within the UC – picketed outside the Lab School before classes began. The walkout was in protest of unfair labor and bargaining practices they allege the UC and Lab School administration have committed.

Negotiations for a side letter, a list of proposed improvements between the Lab School’s administration and UC-AFT, began in August 2022, following the expiration of the previous side letter in 2019. The UC formalized a contract with the union in December 2021, nearly a year before negotiations began. However, it has entirely refused to negotiate the terms of the letter aside from compensation, despite continuing to honor side letters with other similar UC system schools, such as the Geffen Academy at UCLA, said Sylvia Gentile, a demonstration teacher at the Lab School.

“Basically, we presented 20 well-developed proposals about all sorts of things that affect teaching and learning at our elementary school. And they (UC leadership) have said that they don’t have to do anything with that stuff,” she said.

Some proposed changes involved requests for teaching assistants in all classrooms, timely hiring of instructional assistants for students with specific needs, and proper substitute coverage in the absence of teachers, according to the press release. These requests have been ignored by the UC and Lab School leadership, and the school’s values have increasingly eroded since a change in leadership in 2018, Gentile said. 

The teachers are on strike for the implementation of proposals to improve the quality of their school and its education, not their wages, the group added in the press release.

Rebecca Heneise, a dual language demonstration teacher, said the unwillingness of the administration to bargain in good faith has resulted in a negative experience for students and teachers alike, with basic needs going unmet. Recently, she and her students have had to wear multiple layers of clothing since the school heating system broke two weeks ago, she said. 

“They gave us little space heaters, but the electrical system is so old that it short-circuited,” she said. “For three days, I had no overhead, I had no document camera, no electricity, [and] no outlets worked in my classroom.” 

Striking demonstration teachers represented by UC-AFT are pictured during the walkout Wednesday morning. Strikers said they walked out not for pay, but for the values of their school. (Courtesy of Sylvia Gentile)

UCLA spokesperson Bill Kisliuk said in an emailed statement that the university hopes to reach a resolution soon and is working to continue offering normal instruction for children during the strike. The university is also actively working to upgrade the school’s cooling and heating, Kisliuk added. 

“We are in good-faith negotiations with the University Council-American Federation of Teachers and have met with union representatives several times this month as we work toward an agreement,” Kisliuk said in the statement.

Olivia Lozano, another dual language demonstration teacher at the Lab School, said new schedule changes made by the school’s administration – which were implemented without the faculty’s input – resulted in a lack of class planning time for the teachers, cutting into personal time without compensation, she said.

“We were expected to make miracles during our breaks, during our free time,” Lozano said. “There were times where we couldn’t even eat because we were working on things that had to be done.”

Rosie Torres, who is also a dual language demonstration teacher, said teachers were encouraged to stay past school hours to finish their planning. Weekends and summers have also begun to be called into question as potential time for extra work, she said.

Torres said parents have also expressed support for the teachers’ requests and concern about the school’s issues. 

Participants of the Lab School walkout said their requests need to be met for them to meet their goals as educators. UC-AFT president Katie Rodger said the negotiations come down to a matter of respect for the teachers’ experience and time.

“These are specially trained expert teachers, and the University doesn’t listen to them,” she said. 

Lozano said she received an email indicating that she, along with other strikers, was not allowed on campus while not reporting for work, even to use the restroom. Administration also responded to the walkout by increasing security on the Lab School campus, with UCPD stationed nearby, she added. 

“I can only imagine how the children are feeling with us being out here, and all they’re seeing are groups of security guards,” Lozano said. 

The walkout plans to conclude around 3:30 p.m., after many of the students have left the school. It will begin again early Thursday morning as students return for drop-off, Gentile said. 

Rodger added that it remains unclear to the protesters as to why the UC continues to exhibit a lack of transparency and consideration of their requests in their decision-making.

“That’s a 64 million-dollar question,” Gentile said. “We don’t understand why they’re doing this. We really don’t.”

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Russell Ahmed
Constanza Montemayor | News senior staff
Montemayor is a News senior staff reporter for the Bruin. She was previously the 2022-2023 News editor, the 2021-2022 features and student life editor, a News reporter, Photo contributor for the news beat and Arts contributor. She is also a fourth-year global studies student at UCLA.
Montemayor is a News senior staff reporter for the Bruin. She was previously the 2022-2023 News editor, the 2021-2022 features and student life editor, a News reporter, Photo contributor for the news beat and Arts contributor. She is also a fourth-year global studies student at UCLA.
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