Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) employees from the Service Workers International Union (SEIU) prepared to strike on Monday, threatening to close all LAUSD schools Tuesday through Thursday if demands are not met.
While teachers in LAUSD have struck before, including major strikes in 1989 and 2019, the workers themselves at the schools have generally been more relaxed. However, when talks began last year with SEIU about new contracts for most of LAUSD’s non-teacher employees, such as cafeteria workers, special education assistants, cleaners and bus drivers, things quickly ground to a halt. Rising costs caused by inflation, a reduction in the number of teacher assistants, the number of janitors unable to keep schools clean, safety concerns, low wages, dependence on part-time workers, and insufficient hours or benefits for part-time work. At the time, workers were major issues between the union and the LAUSD.
As negotiations have been ongoing since April 2022, the SEIU has demanded a wage increase of at least 30% as well as a fair wage of $2 an hour as SEIU workers earn an average of $25,000 per year. The union also wants to increase hours and medical benefits for part-time workers, improve school cleanliness and increase hiring to make up for staffing shortages.
So far, LAUSD, under the leadership of Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, has proposed a 5% pay increase retroactive to July 2021, another 5% retroactive to July 2022, and a 5% increase starting this July. Bonuses will also be included for those in this school year as well as the next school year.
However, the union turned down the offer, and the school district is working hard to keep the kids in school and prevent the strike from hurting them.
“We are doing everything we can and I remain optimistic that we can reach an agreement,” Carvalho said. “Families must be prepared in case of a strike. We do not need to discuss or dispute the fact that children have lost a lot of ground during the pandemic. They cannot afford not to go to school, which is why I am going directly to the union leadership to negotiate in good faith and find a solution that meets the needs of everyone, including our students.”
— Alberto M. Carvalho (@LAUSDSup) March 20, 2023
Meanwhile, SEIU chief executive Max Arias said they have not been negotiating with LAUSD since Monday, but are instead working with the state to put an end to it.
“We want to be clear that we are not negotiating with LAUSD,” Arias explained. “We continue to engage in a dead-end process with the state.”
The inevitable strike in Los Angeles
Despite last-minute talks taking place on Monday, the union criticized the LAUSD for making them public, leading to new disagreements with the union.
“During strike voting and contract negotiations, district workers were subjected to surveillance, intimidation and harassment,” the union said. “And it is these problems that justify the three-day work. Unfortunately, LAUSD violated this confidentiality by sharing it with the media before our negotiating team, which makes all the decisions, had a chance to discuss how to proceed. This is yet another example of the school district’s continued lack of respect for school employees. We are ready to strike.”
— SEIU (@SEIU) March 20, 2023
Meanwhile, teachers, some of whom are expected to join over the next three days, are ambivalent about the strike itself.
“Low wages, especially in this economy, are worrisome, but because of a union, you just can’t go to your boss and ask for a raise,” explained Michelle, a teacher in Los Angeles who didn’t want to be renewed. used name, in the Globe on Monday. “The main thing is that they hurt children. Yes, three days off is not a problem. Many in the country can simply be told that this can be treated like a snowy day. But, after COVID, we really need every day. And a lot of kids are graduating soon or need to study for important tests, and this strike will make it that much harder.”
An SEIU staff member, who requested anonymity, also told the Globe on Monday: “Many people strongly support the strike, but many of us were just drawn into it and voted for the strike because we felt the pressure from the Union. If I could stay and work, I would.
“When you see us on strike in the next few days, keep in mind that many of us wearing the same T-shirts and waving signs don’t really want to do this, and that SEIU has put pressure on us. I mean, if you say no, you will be ostracized for the rest of your working life. The same thing happens if your heart doesn’t seem to be in it. There are some passionate trade unionists here, and they don’t hesitate to tear people to make sure they stay in line.”
The SEIU strike is expected to start on Tuesday and end on Thursday.