Striking Los Angeles teachers rally at City Hall as talks resume
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of striking Los Angeles teachers rallied outside City Hall on Friday, joined by parents and students as "productive" contract talks resumed behind closed doors after a marathon negotiating session the day before.
Some 30,000 teachers walked off the job on Monday in their first strike against the Los Angeles Unified School District in 30 years, demanding higher pay, smaller classes and more support staff. They also have called for curbs on the steady expansion of independently managed charter schools, arguing that they divert resources from traditional classroom instruction.
"We are willing to go as long as it takes and work as hard as we need to, to get a fair contract," union Secretary Arlene Inouye told a boisterous rally at City Hall, adding that talks were expected to last through the three-day holiday weekend.
The nation's second-largest school district has kept its 1,200 schools open with administrators and substitute teachers, but only about a third of the 500,000 affected students have turned up, mostly gathered in gymnasiums and assembly halls.
At the request of Mayor Eric Garcetti, negotiators for the United Teachers Los Angeles and the district returned to the bargaining table on Thursday for the first time since talks broke off a week ago.
Garcetti, who is mediating talks despite lacking direct authority over the school district, said on Twitter that the two sides had "productive" negotiations that went past midnight.
Negotiators were back at it on Friday but offered no further clues about their progress after agreeing to a news blackout.
The job action follows a wave of teacher strikes last year across the United States over salaries and school funding, including walkouts in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona. But the Los Angeles work stoppage is an unusual case of educators facing off against Democratic leaders.
School Superintendent Austin Beutner has said their demands, if fully met, would be too great a budget strain. Union President Alex Caputo-Pearl has said sufficient funding is available if the district had the right priorities.
The district said in a statement late Thursday the strike had already cost about $100 million and that "our students are missing out on the opportunity to learn."
Support for teachers was running high among parents, several major possible Democratic presidential contenders and the public at large as reflected in a recent survey of Los Angeles residents.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; editing by Scott Malone, Jeffrey Benkoe and Cynthia Osterman)
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