by Howard Blume | LA Times LA Now blog
September 22, 2009 | 8:23 pm
About 100 angry substitute teachers denounced Los Angeles teachers union president A.J. Duffy tonight at a demonstration outside the Wilshire district headquarters of United Teachers Los Angeles. The protesters were angry that Duffy had signed an agreement that could result in reduced work hours for veteran substitute teachers and put their health benefits at risk.
Duffy signed the one-year agreement -- a side letter to the union contract -- in July. Details of the agreement did not emerge until more than a month later, after an inquiry from The Times. Under the agreement, 1,800 full-time teachers who were laid off this summer are given preference for open substitute jobs. In L.A. Unified there are roughly 2,200 openings for substitute teachers every day.
The demonstrators carried homemade signs — some hand-lettered on the back of professionally produced UTLA signs that these same teachers had carried on behalf of UTLA’s anti-budget-cut campaign earlier this year.
“Duffy has always been considered a savior of our sub unit, but he has betrayed us,” said Margarita Bonoan, 82, a substitute for 21 years. “I have always been called at 5:30 a.m. with three choices of jobs, and now I don’t hear the telephone ring.”
Duffy defended the agreement in a statement: “This was a difficult decision to make, but we had to do what was best for our students …Now, because of this agreement, hundreds of the 1,800 released teachers have been reemployed as long-term subs or in other positions at their original schools.
"This stabilizes schools and provides crucial continuity for students who have built relationships with these teachers," Duffy added. "It also helps keep the next generation of teachers in the LAUSD system, so they can be rehired once openings are available.”
Sandy Nevler, 59, a sub for 13 years, said she usually works about 200 days a year but has not been called since the end of June.
“I won’t be able to pay my bills or my mortgage, ” she said.
Substitute work over the summer was also limited by the cancellation of most summer school classes — a budget cut — and a declining number of year-round schools. But the work hasn’t picked up since the start of the traditional fall schedule, the protesters said.
Subs must work one day a month to keep their health benefits and must total 100 days worked in a school year to earn benefits for the next year. In his statement, Duffy pledged to help the veteran subs recover the work hours they needed.
The potential loss of benefits especially worries Josephine Danels, who suffers from sciatica and skin cancer. She hasn’t had a work call since June 16, she said.
“Give me back my job or 10 years of union dues,” one sign said. Another gave Duffy an “F” for truthfulness and reliability. Using white medical tape, many of the teachers had the initials S.O.S., for Save Our Subs, on their foreheads.
After marching and chanting for an hour on the sidewalk, demonstrators tried to lead reporters upstairs where a membership meeting was about to begin on a school-reform proposal. On orders from union leadership, security guards would not allow the group upstairs. Later, some subs were allowed into the meeting, which they have a right to attend, but only if reporters were kept out.
The union’s representative body will take up the agreement on substitutes at its regular October meeting, union officials said.
Photo credit: Kirk McKoy