Home News Los Angeles Faces School Shutdown as Workers Prepare to Strike

Los Angeles Faces School Shutdown as Workers Prepare to Strike

by Staff

Tens of thousands of Los Angeles school employees are planning to strike for three days starting on Tuesday, which could force hundreds of campuses to close and cancel classes for 422,000 students.

The union that represents 30,000 support workers in the Los Angeles Unified School District is seeking a 30 percent pay increase, saying that many employees make little more than the minimum wage and are struggling to afford the cost of living in Southern California.

The Los Angeles teachers’ union has asked its 35,000 members to walk out in solidarity and avoid crossing the support workers’ picket lines.

Leaders of the school district, the second-largest in the nation, say they are now working around the clock to avert a strike. Even so, they have urged parents since last week to begin making child-care arrangements, because a walkout by both the support workers and the teachers would necessitate shutting down more than 1,000 schools.

The planned strike has forced families to scramble, and has rekindled frustrations that many parents felt over the lengthy school closures prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Some parents are able to care for their children by working remotely, but many have jobs that require their physical presence at a workplace outside the home.

Here’s what we know about the planned walkout.

The dispute involves Local 99 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents people who work for Los Angeles Unified in a variety of nonteaching jobs, like bus drivers, cafeteria workers, special education assistants and gardeners. The union announced last week that its members would strike for three days, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents teachers and some other district employees, is not a party to the labor dispute, but said its members would not cross Local 99’s picket lines.

The work stoppage would be the first joint walkout by the district’s two largest unions, according to the district superintendent, Alberto Carvalho.

Local 99 said that it was calling for a limited strike this week specifically to protest unfair negotiating tactics by the school district, rather than calling a general walkout over pay and work conditions. The union said that under the law, this type of strike comes with protections for workers who walk out, but must have a set time limit and cannot be open-ended.

Los Angeles Unified asked the state on Friday to block the planned strike, arguing that the union was actually protesting over pay, not negotiating tactics, and that it had not exhausted all the bargaining steps required before striking over economic issues.

A state board said over the weekend that it would not impose an injunction against the strike, but the board could still determine on Monday that the union had called the strike unlawfully, according to the school district.

Contract negotiations between Local 99 and Los Angeles Unified began in April 2022, and Local 99 declared in December that the talks were at an impasse, according to the union. Its members voted overwhelmingly in February to authorize a strike.

Its members “know a strike will be a sacrifice, but the school district has pushed workers to take this action,” Max Arias, the executive director of Local 99, said in a statement.

The union is seeking a 30 percent overall raise; an additional $2-an-hour increase for the lowest-paid workers, and other increases in compensation. Local 99 said its workers make an average salary of $25,000 a year. The district has said that the figure includes part-time as well as full-time employees.

A counterproposal from the district on Friday included a 20 percent increase in pay spread over several years and a onetime 5 percent bonus. Some payments would be retroactive.

The teachers union is also in contract discussions with the district, but it has not called its own walkout, other than saying it would honor Local 99’s picket lines this week. The district’s latest proposal for teachers includes a 5 percent increase for this school year, a 6 percent raise next year and a 3 percent increase in the 2024-25 school year. In October 2022, the teachers’ union called for a 20 percent pay increase.

In 2019, the teachers’ union in L.A. Unified went on strike for the first time in 30 years. School campuses stayed open, but student attendance was low.

Eric Garcetti, who was mayor of Los Angeles at the time, stepped in to help broker a deal to end the walkout.

Later that year, teachers went on strike for a week in Oakland and for a day in Sacramento. Teachers and staff members both walked out in Sacramento in 2022, reaching a deal with administrators on pay raises and benefits after eight days.

Last fall, 48,000 unionized University of California employees, most of them graduate students, walked off the job for nearly six weeks. They secured significant increases in starting salaries, higher pay scales for experienced workers and extra compensation for those who work in particularly expensive California cities.

Strikes, especially by teachers and education workers, have become increasingly common over the past six years, a reflection of widespread employee frustration with low wages, poor working conditions and growing income inequality, according to Kent Wong, director of the U.C.L.A. Labor Center. Public support for organized labor is at a 50-year high in the United States.

Moreover, the nation has recently been experiencing its highest inflation rates since the 1980s. And education workers have seen some private-sector employees successfully negotiate for more pay as employers struggle to hire and retain qualified staff.

“There’s tremendous discontent among working people that this isn’t working for them,” Mr. Wong said. “The rise in worker organizing and the rise in worker strikes is absolutely a sign of the times.”

District officials announced last week that supervision of students would be provided at some schools between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. during a strike, if one occurs. Eighteen recreation centers in Los Angeles County would offer free games, open gyms and computer labs for children to use between 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. during a school work stoppage.

Besides supervision for children, a major concern would be ensuring that children are properly fed. The district offers free breakfast and lunch for all students, regardless of income, and many children rely on those meals during the school week. Most students enrolled in the Los Angeles district come from low-income households.

The district said that if the strike takes place, families would be able to pick up six grab-and-go meals for each student on Tuesday from specific food distribution sites — intended to cover breakfast and lunch for three days.

While out of classes, students would be able to access instructional material and on-demand tutoring. Some teachers may send work home with students on Monday, before the strike would begin.

“I want to personally apologize to our families and our students,” Mr. Carvalho, the dictrict superintendent, wrote on Twitter. “You deserve better. Know that we are doing everything possible to avoid a strike.”

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