Eric Garcetti

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, shown at a private lunch last month, on Saturday rallied teachers gathered at a national convention in downtown Los Angeles. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times / July 12, 2014)

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti rallied thousands of teachers Saturday morning at a downtown teachers union convention, voicing his support for controversial job protections, praising their efforts and pledging his political support going forward.

“I’m sick and tired of hearing our teachers get beat up on by political leaders in this country,” he told the crowd, to cheers.

Garcetti, speaking at the American Federation of Teachers convention, did not specifically mention Vergara vs. California, a recent case in which the court found teacher job protections violate the equal education rights of the state’s poor and minority children. But the mayor did express support for tenure laws.

“We know that seniority issues are complicated and the layoff process has unfairly impacted poor communities, but we don’t have to demolish the importance of tenure, we can find a collaborative way forward to say that poor schools matter, and that we can reform in a positive way ... instead of just suing one another,” Garcetti said.

The remarks differed from previous comments on the issue. Last month, he told the Los Angeles Times that he thought the ruling was “a great decision.”

Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said Garcetti’s initial comments were troubling, but appreciated the sentiment of Saturday’s speech.

“We’re glad that he indicated that he supports tenure and elements of seniority,” Caputo-Pearl said. “We have to keep on having those discussions with him.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who has sharply criticized U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for his support of the Vergara vs. California verdict, mentioned Garcetti among politicians who backed the decision that strips teachers of vital job protections.

“That's why we took issue with anyone who praised the verdict, including Secretary Duncan and Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti, even though we are glad he is welcoming us to his city,” she said.

The American Federation of Teachers will vote Sunday on a resolution that condemns the motivation behind Vergara vs. California as well as Harris vs. Quinn, in which the U.S. Supreme Court limited the right of unions to collect dues from non-members who are represented by unions in contract negotiations.

In his speech, Garcetti spoke about his grandmother, who was a teacher in Milwaukee in the 1960s and recalled fondly his own time as an instructor at Occidental College and the University of Southern California.

He called for increased health clinics in schools, after-school programs and for cities to take responsibility for students once they’re out of the classroom, "to make sure we don’t say, 'Hey teachers, solve all of our problems by yourself.'"

“To our unions, you have a place at the table again and to our teachers ... we need you and you are no longer alone,” Garcetti said.