Nisei Teacher Recalls Earlier Strikes as Rally Heads for Little Tokyo

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Los Angeles Unified School District teachers rally in Little Tokyo on the second day of a district-wide strike. They are asking for increased pay, smaller class sizes and the hiring of more support staff, such as nurses, counselors and librarians. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

By ELLEN ENDO, Rafu Shimpo

The Los Angeles teachers’ strike entered Day 2 on Jan. 15 with an estimated crowd of 10,000 or more teachers and supporters assembling for a mass rally in front of Little Tokyo’s Kajima Building.

The California Charter Schools Association offices are located at First and San Pedro streets. United Teachers of Los Angeles, the union representing the Los Angeles Unified School District’s 34,000 teachers, has been in negotiations with LAUSD since April 2017, calling for salary increases, lower class size, accountability for charter schools, improved school safety, nurses, librarians, counselors, and expanded educational programs.

LAUSD asserts that it doesn’t have the money to meet the union’s demands.

The issues and fervor are all too familiar to retired teacher and former UTLA strike leader Mas Okui, an 86-year-old Nisei who remembers earlier walkouts in 1970 and 1989. “It was brutal,” he says, recalling the 1970 strike, which went on for 21 days, “and we got nothing.” In 1989, teachers walked off for nine days.

Okui laments that the problems continuing to face the nation’s second-largest school district are systemic. “There are just too many highly paid administrators and other non-teaching personnel doing next to nothing,” he insists. “I look at the strike as something (the teachers) had to do because things need to change, and the school board doesn’t budge.”

Okui, who taught high school social studies before his retirement, added that he hopes no one will be tempted to work as strike-breakers. “Most of the people who went on strike never forgave the people who crossed the picket lines … to this day.”

eachers stage a protest in front of Denker Avenue Elementary in Gardena.

Today, Okui continues to educate others, focusing mainly on the Japanese American wartime experience. As a teenager, Okui and his family were incarcerated at Manzanar during World War II. He has shared that experience by conducting countless tours of the Manzanar National Historic Site for his fellow teachers and currently sits of the Friends of Manzanar board of directors.

Arlene Inouye, UTLA secretary and a chief negotiator for the union, has become the spokesperson and, therefore, the face of the strike. “Our demands are basic,” she says. “We’re asking for investment in our schools, and we’re saying, ‘enough is enough.'”

Arlene Inouye

Inouye has accused Superintendent Austin Beutner of bargaining in the media instead of sitting down with union representatives. She spent most of Day 2 visiting Harbor area schools and other sites where demonstrations were taking place.

As of Tuesday, no new talks were scheduled.

Inouye, a Sansei, was born and raised in L.A. and has been a Spanish bilingual speech and language specialist for 18 years in over 30 schools throughout the district. Three generations of her family have attended LAUSD schools.

The L.A. strike is the latest of the walkouts that have occurred in recent months across the nation in Arizona, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Washington.

Despite Okui’s worries that this latest strike might require sacrifices on the part of teachers and their families, “I stand with the teachers.”

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