LOS ANGELES — The nation’s second-largest school district shut its doors to 422,000 students Tuesday after more than 60,000 workers at Los Angeles Unified School District – including school staff and teachers – made good on their promise to strike in response to a breakdown in contract negotiations.
District workers gathered outside schools and a bus yard with signs early Tuesday reading “RESPECT US!” and umbrellas, as another atmospheric river dumped rain on Los Angeles.
“This is what solidarity looks like right here,” said Max Arias, executive director of SEIU Local 99, which represents the striking bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria employees, campus security and teaching assistants. Passing drivers blasted horns in support as he spoke at a news conference outside Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools. Arias said LAUSD failed to bargain in good faith, instead subjecting workers to “stress and harassment.”
“If LAUSD truly values and he’s serious about reaching an agreement, they must show workers the respect they deserve,” he said. “We have had enough of empty promises.”
The strike, which is expected to last as long as three days, left parents scrambling to find childcare, meals and substitute learning arrangements. Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass announced on Twitter that the city would provide students with “safe places and meals so students are cared for and parents can keep working.”
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SEIU Local 99, which represents roughly 30,000 school support staff, demanded LAUSD provide them with a 30% raise and $2 per hour equity wage increase. The United Teachers of Los Angeles, which represents about 35,000 teachers, said its educators would not cross picket lines and planned to join the strike in solidarity.
“We will stand united, 65,000 members strong, until LAUSD and Superintendent Alberto Carvalho give respect to the education workers that keep our schools running and our children safe,” said UTLA president Cecily Myart-Cruz at Tuesday’s news conference. “These are the coworkers that are the lowest paid workers in our schools, and we cannot stand idly by as we consistently see them disrespected and mistreated by the district. So let’s be clear, the onus is on the district.”
‘We have to start paying them a decent wage’
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who represents Hollywood, said he supports the workers’ strike and believes that the imposition on parents, as a parent himself whose kids went through public schools, is unfortunately necessary.
“The median income of our bus drivers and our cafeteria workers and our school aides is $25,000 a year. Who can live on $25,000 a year? Those are poverty wages. People with some of the most important responsibilities in our schools should not have to live in poverty,” said Schiff, speaking alongside Arias.
Schiff noted that renting a one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles costs about $1,700 a month, leaving only a few thousand more for a living expenses for these workers – many of whom are parents, too.
“We have to start paying them a decent wage,” Schiff said. “For those looking after our kids, they deserve to work in dignity and live in dignity.”
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After nearly a year of contract negotiations, the impasse between district and its workers, however, remained firm. L.A. Unified offered a more than 15% raise, retention bonuses and to bring its minimum wage up to $20. But last month, SEIU Local 99 members voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike.
The last time the district dealt with contentious wage negotiations was in 2019, when LAUSD teachers went on a six-day strike. District negotiators and the labor union ultimately agreed on a 6% raise for teachers, additional nurses and school counselors and changed how the school system handles class sizes.
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Carvalho, after pleading with the union to continue negotiations Monday, was largely silent as the strike began. He praised volunteers helping to distribute meals, in the rain, to students who may rely on schools for much of their food.