Denver union, officials to reconvene as schools strike enters second day

FILE PHOTO: The Continental Divide is seen in the background behind the downtown city skyline in Denver, Colorado, U.S., November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/File Photo

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) – Thousands of Denver public school teachers are expected to strike Tuesday, disrupting classes for more than 90,000 students for a second day as union and school district officials resume talks that broke down at the weekend.

In the latest of several major strikes to hit the U.S. public school system, the teachers are seeking pay hikes and a new salary structure.

Statewide stoppages affected West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona last year, and Los Angeles teachers reached a deal last month to reduce class sizes and raise salaries by 6 percent, ending a six-week walkout.

Talks in Denver broke down on Saturday night, triggering the first walkout by teachers in the city since 1994 on Monday.

It disrupted classes for some 92,000 students but district officials kept all 207 schools open Monday, staffed by substitute teachers and administration personnel, and are expected to do so as long as the strike continues.

Denver’s 5,650-member teachers’ union says a new pay scheme has sacrificed dependable cost-of-living wage hikes for limited bonuses offered for teaching in high-poverty areas and classes with problematic students.

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova said the district had proposed a pay increase of nearly 11 percent next year. Robert Gould, lead negotiator for the Denver Classroom Teachers Association’s bargaining team, said the district was inflating the value of the offer.

The two sides are scheduled to reconvene for talks at 10:00 am on Tuesday, when thousands of teachers are again expected to brave freezing weather to picket outside schools before a rally at the city’s Civic Center Park.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Additional reporting by Jann Tracey in Denver and Gina Cherelus in New York; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Rich McKay in Atlanta; editing by John Stonestreet)

U.S. weekly jobless claims jump to near one-and-a-half year high

FILE PHOTO - A man holds a leaflet at a military veterans' job fair in Carson, California October 3, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits surged to near a 1-1/2-year high last week, but economists dismissed the jump as a fluke and said temporary factors, including a partial government shutdown, were to blame.

A strike by teachers in California, cold weather and difficulties adjusting the data around moving holidays like Martin Luther King Jr. Day also likely were factors in the spurt in claims reported by the Labor Department on Thursday.

“We are skeptical the rise could reflect a true weakening in the labor market given that there are few other signs of weaker labor markets in January,” said John Ryding, chief economist at RDQ Economic in New York. “Nonetheless, if we maintain this higher level of jobless claims in the coming weeks, that would indicate a pickup in layoff activity.”

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits jumped 53,000 to a seasonally adjusted 253,000 for the week ended Jan. 26, the highest level since September 2017, the Labor Department said. The rise was also the largest since September 2017.

Claims dropped to 200,000 in the prior week, which was the lowest level since October 1969. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to only 215,000 in the latest week.

The claims data covered the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, which occurred later this year than in the past. Economists believe non-federal government workers who were temporarily unemployed during the longest government shutdown in the country’s history likely helped to boost claims last week.

The surge in claims came amid a recent deterioration in business and consumer confidence, which was partly blamed on a five-week government shutdown that has since ended.

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday kept interest rates steady but said it would be patient in lifting borrowing costs further this year in a nod to growing uncertainty over the economy’s outlook. The U.S. central bank removed language from its December policy statement that risks to the outlook were “roughly balanced.”

The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 5,000 to 220,250 last week.

The claims data has no bearing on January’s employment report, which is scheduled for release on Friday, as it falls outside the survey period. According to a Reuters survey of economists, non-farm payrolls likely increased by 165,000 jobs in January after jumping by 312,000 in December.

The 35-day government shutdown is not expected to have an impact on January’s job growth, as workers who were furloughed will be paid retroactively together with colleagues who worked without pay. However, those workers who stayed at home during the shutdown are expected to temporarily push up the unemployment rate in January.

The dollar fell against most major currencies, dropping to a two-week low versus the yen, pressured by the Fed’s cautious economic outlook. U.S. Treasury yields fell, while stocks on Wall Street were trading mostly higher.

STEADY WAGE GAINS

Underscoring the labor market’s strength, another report on Thursday from the Labor Department showed its Employment Cost Index, the broadest measure of labor costs, increased 0.7 percent in the fourth quarter after rising 0.8 percent in the July-September period.

The fourth quarter rise lifted the year-on-year rate of increase in labor costs to 2.9 percent, the biggest gain since June 2008, from 2.8 percent in the 12 months through September.

Wages and salaries, which account for 70 percent of employment costs, rose 0.6 percent in the fourth quarter after advancing 0.9 percent in the prior period. They were up 3.1 percent in the 12 months through December.

That was the biggest increase since June 2008 and followed a 2.9 percent gain in the year through September.

“It supports our view that the tightness in the labor market is generating upward pressure on compensation,” said Daniel Silver, an economist at JPMorgan in New York.

While the labor market is on solid footing, manufacturing appears to be slowing. A third report on Thursday showed the MNI Chicago business barometer dropped 7.1 points to a reading of 56.7 in January as new orders tumbled to a two-year low. The survey’s measure of production dropped to a 10-month low.

There was some good news on the housing market. The Commerce Department reported new home sales vaulted 16.9 percent in November to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 657,000 units. The surge erased October’s 8.3 percent plunge in single-family home sales.

The November home sales report was delayed by the government shutdown, which affected the Commerce Department.

The housing market struggled in 2018, weighed down by acute shortages of homes for sales, which boosted prices, as well as higher mortgage rates. But there are glimmers of hope as house price inflation has slowed significantly and mortgage rates have eased after shooting up last year.

Supply, however, still remains tight.

“We expect a further rise in new home sales during 2019 as homebuyers look to new builds, with inventory conditions for existing homes still extremely tight,” said Ben Ayers, senior economist at Nationwide in Columbus, Ohio.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Paul Simao)

Striking Los Angeles teachers set for mass rally as talks resume

FILE PHOTO: Los Angeles teachers carry signs as they picket in the rain in Los Angeles, California, U.S. January 16, 2018. REUTERS/Dan Whitcomb

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Los Angeles teachers union officials on Friday called for a mass rally to show support before their second round of contact talks to settle a week-long strike that has disrupted classes for some 500,000 students in the second largest U.S. school system.

At the request of Mayor Eric Garcetti, negotiators for the United Teachers Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District returned to the bargaining table on Thursday for the first time since talks broke off a week ago.

Garcetti, who is mediating talks even though he has no direct authority over the school district, said on Twitter that the two sides had “productive” negotiations that went past midnight and were set to resume at 11 a.m. PST (1900 GMT).

Both sides agreed to a news blackout during the mediated talks. Negotiations, which had gone on for 21 months before some 30,000 teachers walked off the job on Monday, have been centered largely on union demands for smaller classes, more support staff and higher pay.

The labor strife in Los Angeles 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. While those strikes represented conflicts between teachers unions and Republican-controlled state governments, the Los Angeles strike pits educators against Democratic leaders.

At an early-morning rally at City Hall, union leaders urged members and supporters to turn out en masse for a larger assembly later Friday at nearby Grand Park.

“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 supporters, adding that she expected the talks to last through the three-day holiday weekend.

School Superintendent Austin Beutner has said the demands, if fully met, would be too great a budget strain. Union President Alex Caputo-Pearl has insisted sufficient funding is available, given 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.”

Although the strike has disrupted classes, 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.

District officials have kept all 1,200 schools open on a limited basis with a skeleton staff, but attendance was running well below normal.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Oklahoma teachers press Senate to pass tax plan to end strike

Teachers rally outside the state Capitol on the second day of a teacher walkout to demand higher pay and more funding for education in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S., April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Nick Oxford

By Heidi Brandes

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) – Oklahoma teachers packed the state Capitol on Monday to press the Republican-dominated Senate to enact a capital gains tax overhaul educators said could bring in about $100 million and help end a statewide walkout now in its second week.

Tens of thousands of teachers have come to the Capitol each working day since the strike started April 2 calling for increased spending for an education system where inflation-adjusted general funding per student dropped by 28.2 percent between 2008 and 2018, the biggest reduction of any state, according to the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Public schools serving more than half of the state’s 700,000 students were closed on Monday, including those around Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Oklahoma teachers are some of the lowest paid in the country.

“We need lawmakers to make a long-term investment in our children’s future,” the Oklahoma Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union with about 40,000 members, said on Monday.

In the past few weeks, lawmakers approved nearly $450 million in new taxes and revenue to help fund teachers’ pay and education, but that is still short of the $600 million being sought by teachers.

The Senate is set to meet this afternoon and discuss a bill that would remove a tax exemption on capital gains. If the bill is enacted, the union has said it would be a major step toward ending the strike.

They also want lawmakers to implement a hotel tax that would bring in an estimated $50 million.

The strike has garnered strong public backing, with a statewide survey from the Sooner Poll agency released last Friday showing that 72.1 percent of respondents supported the walkout.

The job action comes after a West Virginia strike last month ended with a pay raise and as teachers in other states, increasingly angry over stagnating wages, consider walkouts of their own.

Opponents of the tax hikes, including Oklahoma Taxpayers United, argue that lawmakers could boost education spending by cutting bureaucracy and waste rather than raising taxes.

The new tax and revenue that has been approved by lawmakers translates into an average teacher pay raise of about $6,100.

Teachers are seeking a $10,000 raise over three years. The minimum salary for a first-year teacher is currently $31,600, state data shows.

A major cause of budget strain comes from tax breaks Oklahoma granted to its energy industry, which were worth $470 million in fiscal-year 2015 alone.

(Writing and additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin and Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Tom Brown)