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A Planned 3-Day Strike Will Shut Down LAUSD, The Nation's Second Largest School District. It Starts March 21

In front of a very tall white building, a large crowd of teachers assembles, with some holding up lettered signs that spell out the word solidarity.
SEIU Local 99 members rally in downtown Los Angeles for a better contract from the Los Angeles Unified School District.
(Ashley Balderrama
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The union that represents school staff members employed by the Los Angeles Unified School District rallied in downtown Los Angeles for a new and better contract Wednesday.

And now we have the dates for a planned 3-day strike: March 21, 22 and 23. If that strike takes place it will shut down the nation's second largest school district.

Service Employees International Union Local 99 represents 30,000 bus drivers, special education assistants, cafeteria workers and other core LAUSD staff.

In a preemptive statement, LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho issued a statement that said: "I want to personally apologize to our families and our students. You deserve better. Know that we are doing everything possible to avoid a strike."

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What the union wants

Thousands showed up for a rally in Grand Park outside of Los Angeles City Hall, joined in solidarity by members of United Teachers Los Angeles, the district's teachers union.

SEIU members are seeking a 30% wage increase, a $2 per hour raise, more hours, health insurance, and a stop to private contractors.

“One in three of our members is below poverty wage, and even at 30%, they will still be at poverty wage,” said Jannette Verbera, a member of the local's executive board and its bargaining committee.

In the 23 years Verbera has worked for the district, she told LAist, she can’t remember a time where she didn’t work at least two jobs.

On average, according to numbers provided by SEIU, members make $25,000 a year. They work the 180 days of a typical school year, usually for six hours a day. They aren’t paid during Thanksgiving, Christmas, spring break and other holidays.

“There are some employees, most of us, work part-time jobs," said Santos Robles, an IT solutions technician and SEIU member. "LAUSD has many part-time workers, which are our members, so our members need to get second jobs and third jobs to make ends meet, so that they can feed their families and do what the have to do."

Robles said the district needs to provide more hours to employees.

LAUSD has released multiple statements — including the one issued Wednesday by Carvahlo — expressing its disappointment with the union's bargaining, saying SEIU has left "a historic offer on the table."

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The district said it has offered a 15% wage increase, health benefits to those who work at least four hours a day, and other concessions.

Preparing for a strike

The rally in downtown L.A.’s Grand Park is a prelude to a planned three-day strike. In February, 96% of SEIU members voted to authorize a strike if contract negotiations with LAUSD failed. Last week, the union announced a cancellation of its current contract, which also ended a “no-strike” provision.

What happens to students if LAUSD employees go on strike?
  • Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said Wednesday that the district is beginning to make preparations for a strike, including distance learning options and basic child care for families. Read more about the district's strike plan.

The teachers union, UTLA, is also seeking a new contract with LAUSD, and has asked members not to cross picket lines at schools.

“We have more in common with each other than we do with the boss, with Carvalho,” Arlene Inouye, the teachers union’s secretary, told LAist.

Together, the two unions make up 65,000 workers across LAUSD. Carvalho announced Monday night that a joint strike would probably result in schools shutting down for the duration.

In a voicemail to parents, Carvalho said, "We will give you as much advance notice as possible, but we encourage you to begin discussions with your employer, child care providers and others now.”

Inouye said UTLA’s message to its members has been very clear. “We need everybody to take a stand, everybody to be out there. The numbers are going to be important. The numbers are going to show that we have collective power.”

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