Early Tuesday morning the Service Employees International Union Local 99 (SEIU) announced that LAUSD Service workers are going on strike. LAUSD is the second largest school district in the country, and this will shut down all schools in the district for at least three days. The main groups covered are the 30k school custodians, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and special education assistants.
This strike comes after nearly a year of unsuccessful negotiations between the union and LAUSD. On Friday, LAUSD asked California’s Public Employment RelationsBoard (PERB) to halt the strike, claiming the union’s proposed walkout was illegal.
According to a statement from LAUSD, “PERB has denied Los Angeles Unified’s request for injunctive relief, without prejudice, because the PERB Board did not find the extraordinary remedy of seeking injunctive relief to be met at this juncture. However, the PERB Board has directed their Office of General Counsel (“OGC”) to expedite the processing of the District’s underlying unfair practice charge against SEIU Local 99, which alleged that SEIU and its members are engaging in an unlawful 3-day strike.”
During heated negotiations on Monday, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho offered the workers a 23% recurring pay increase, plus a 3% cash-in-hand bonus, $20-an-hour minimum wage, and gull health care benefits for those working at least four hours a day. That offer was turned down and the workers were on the picket lines in the rain early Tuesday morning.
According to the union, district support staffers earn, on average, about $25,000 per year and they are demanding a 30% salary increase, plus $2 more per hour for the lowest paid employees. United Teachers Los Angeles – a union representing about 30,000 teachers, is participating in a solidarity strike this week and joining the support workers union rallies.
There was also a large gathering in downtown LA on Tuesday afternoon.
Strikes and labor movements in general are on the rise, and this is leading to a resurgence of education strikes across the country. The most recent wave of K-12 teacher strikes occurred in 2018-2019, and LAUSD teachers got a sizable package as a result, including a 6% salary increase, a reduction in class size, and an increase in support staff. But in the past few years the huge number of teachers leaving the profession has given those that are still around more leverage, although that hasn’t always meant dramatically better working conditions. Now with support staff striking, even more cracks in the educational infrastructure are starting to show.
Strikes have been effective in bringing attention to the issue of underfunding and neglect of public schools in the United States. Teachers often have to buy their own supplies, work in overcrowded classrooms, and deal with inadequate resources, which can have a significant impact on the quality of education that students receive. Teacher strikes have been successful in getting states to increase funding for education and improve working conditions for teachers.
This labor strife at schools is part of a broader trend of increased strike action across the US economy. Union work stoppages hit a 17-year high in 2023. But it is layered on top of a school system that hasn’t recovered since COVID and kids who are still dealing with learning loss. It is easy to point fingers and blame the strikers for interrupting school or blame the higher administration for not noticing or taking these needs seriously earlier, but there is a degree of exhaustion at every level.
What we need to navigate this and the next few years is decisive AND empathetic leadership. It is possible that the package Carvalho offered could have averted a strike two months ago, but continuing to act only in response to the situation, instead of in anticipation of it, will make all of these divisions harder to heal.
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