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In L.A., Teachers and Parents Raise Money for Striking Service Workers

by Staff

It’s a cruel irony that while Los Angeles Unified School District service workers are walking off the job to demand better pay, many of them cannot afford to miss work during the three-day strike, which is why teachers and parents are stepping in to help.

At schools across Los Angeles, fundraisers are helping recoup the lost wages for striking members of SEIU Local 99, the union representing 30,000 bus drivers, custodians, special education assistants, cafeteria workers and instructional aides.

“We heard some of our SEIU co-workers say ‘I really want to be on the picket line, I really want to strike, but I’m not sure if I can make it work,’ so that’s when we decided to raise money,” said Hannah Day, a teacher at Elysian Heights Arts Magnet in Echo Park, who launched a GoFundMe to support striking service workers at her school.

The three-day LAUSD strike is led by SEIU Local 99 with thousands of teachers’ union members, like Day, walking out in solidarity.

Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has made what he calls a “historic offer” to SEIU Local 99, including a 23% raise over time and 3% retention bonus, but union leaders say this falls short of what is needed to keep workers above the poverty line and at pace with inflation. They are demanding a 30% raise over time.

The average annual salary of SEIU members is $25,000 and many work part-time. One in three members have experienced homelessness or are at risk of becoming homeless, while one in four are experiencing food instability, according to a union survey.

“For people who are on the verge of experiencing homelessness, for people who don’t have enough food to eat, missing three days of work is no small potatoes,” said Day. “It’s a huge sacrifice.”

Day’s fundraiser has collected almost $5,000 in just two days thanks to donations from both parents and teachers.

“It’s not charity,” she said. “Donating to our GoFundMe is an act of solidarity and appreciation for the stance we are taking and the sacrifice we are making to create a better public education system in Los Angeles.”

Although many teachers are financially strained themselves, their average salary is almost double that of SEIU members and many are dipping into their own pockets to help their striking co-workers.

Over at Bernstein High School in Hollywood, teachers are entirely funding a GoFundMe for their SEIU colleagues, which has raised around $900 in its first day. The student body is almost entirely below the poverty line and teachers didn’t feel comfortable asking parents for money, said Sara-Jean Lipmen, an instructional coach who is organizing the fundraiser.

“As a teacher, I’m definitely not paid enough for the work I do, but I’m not worried about eating tomorrow if I take a day off,” said Lipmen. “They (SEIU members) are and that’s where this fundraiser came from.”

For Diana Fajardo, a campus aide at Toluca Lake Elementary School, working for the district has meant living without health benefits. In addition to her aide duties, Fajardo works a second job as a night-shift caregiver and raises her son, who is an LAUSD student.

“I’m with kids all the time and I’m taking care of them,” Fajardo said. “But I’d get better pay somewhere else. It isn’t fair.”

Teaching assistant Vivian Flores also frequently works second jobs to cover her expenses, in addition to attending community college to pursue a degree in child development studies.

She said the district’s “poor support and wages” make it difficult to get by.

“One of the major things I’ve been struggling with is having to pay my utilities, my rent and my tuition,” Flores said. “We strongly need better wages.”

Emily Ponce is organizing a fundraiser for striking SEIU members at Betty Plasencia Elementary in Echo Park and said that since many of her fellow teachers started their careers as teaching assistants they can sympathize with their plight.

“We feel it deep in our hearts because we were in those positions on our way up to become teachers,” she said.

Her fundraiser, with support from teachers, parents and community members, has raised almost $5,000 in five days to support SEIU members like teaching assistants.

“It shows us how strong our community is,” said Ponce, marveling at the amount of money raised. “Our community supports what we are fighting for and they really came through for us.”

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