An estimated 15,000 teachers and their supporters rallied in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday, threatening to strike should union and school district representatives fail to reach an agreement to reduce class sizes, raise teacher pay, and eliminate the existing system for evaluating educators.
"We do not want to strike, but we know that if we have to, to win the schools LA students deserve, we need to be prepared to do that," said Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), at the demonstration outside City Hall.
The massive rally was the latest action in an ongoing standoff between the 35,000-member teachers union and the country's second-largest school district. An official impasse wasdeclared earlier this month, after seven months and 18 rounds of contract talks.
According to the LA Times, "Each side argues that the other is being unreasonable." The union is seeking a pay raise of 8.5 percent; the district has offered 5 percent.
In addition, the union wants smaller classes—UTLA says the district has 3,000 classrooms with over 45 students per teacher—and to add more counselors, nurses, and librarians on campuses as part of its campaign called 'Schools LA Students Deserve.' The union is also calling for elimination of the "illegally implemented" Teacher Growth and Development Cycle evaluation system.
But beyond these specifics, the fight in LA is part of a larger story, said Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers, at Thursday's demonstration.
"Everybody in this country is watching this struggle," he said before a sea of red shirts and protest signs. "It’s a fight about the nature of public education. What is public education going to look like?"
The last major urban district to strike was Chicago Public Schools in 2012.
This story was originally published on Common Dreams.