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As LAUSD Staff Workers Vote To Strike, They Remember Management Calling Them 'Heroes'

A dark-skinned male custodian, at Brainard Avenue Elementary in Lake View Terrace cleans a door handle on an outside corridor.
A custodian at Brainard Avenue Elementary in Lake View Terrace cleans a door handle on April 13, 2021, the campus' first day hosting students since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Kyle Stokes
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The words ring in the minds of members of SEIU Local 99.

As LAUSD Staff Workers Vote To Strike, They Remember Management Calling Them 'Heroes'

“They called us essential workers,” said Henry Argueta, a special education assistant at Wilton Place Elementary School, in Wilshire Park.

As the COVID-19 pandemic closed Los Angeles schools in 2020, SEIU workers were preparing millions of meals and helping to clean classrooms.

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“The district calls us heroes, especially when we were working through the pandemic,” said Edna Logan, a custodian and building and grounds worker at Manual Arts High School, near Exposition Park.

Both workers said they voted to authorize their union to call a strike, a decision they didn’t take lightly. Over the past three weeks, 96% of union members voted to authorize a strike.

“I’ve already spoken with some of the parents of our kids and just let them know that the reason we're fighting for this is for their kids…” Argueta said, “we want them to get better service, better education.”

His work, Argueta said, takes a toll. He works six hour a day, but he’d like a longer shift to help the classroom teacher prepare for the next day’s lessons.

Years Without A Contract

Workers essential to the operations of L.A. schools want administrators and the public to recognize that the current cost-of-living crisis is hitting them hard.

The last long-term SEIU contract ran from 2017-2020, but the pandemic derailed a new one. The contract under negotiation now is actually for 2021 through 2023. Any pay increases would be applied retroactively, and the union wants the increases to be permanent.

According to the union, members earn an average of $25,000 yearly in pay. A recent union proposal asked the school district to give workers a 10% salary increase in each of the three years of the contract and a $2 per hour raise for all workers. Union leaders say that would raise average worker pay to about $37,000 yearly, which is still nearly impossible to live off of in Southern California if that’s a person’s only source of income.

“[Members] have spoken so clearly that this needs to happen, their jobs need to be valued, it's also a matter of respect,” said Max Arias, executive director of SEIU Local 99.

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It’s unlikely that the SEIU Local 99 workers will go on strike in the next week. A mediation session between the union and the school district is scheduled for Tuesday of next week.

Should SEIU Local 99 go on strike, the LAUSD teachers union, UTLA, has already signaled that they will encourage their members not to cross picket lines.

L.A. Unified Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said last month he’s hopeful a deal can be reached.

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