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The 3-Day LAUSD Strike Is Nearing Its End. What Comes Next?

A crowd, many wearing red rain slickers, stands or marches in the street. One woman with light brown skin and straight black hair and wearing a red beanie holds a sign up that reads "I can't afford an actual sign!!!"
Thousands gather outside the LAUSD headquarters in downtown Los Angeles in support of the SEIU99 and UTLA strike on Tuesday, March 21, 2023.
(Ashley Balderrama
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The strike that shut down Los Angeles Unified School District has reached its third and, if things go as advertised, final day.

The union that represents school support staff walked off on Tuesday, in protest of alleged harassment from the district during prolonged contract talks. The teachers union joined in solidarity. That's 65,000 workers total.

On Wednesday afternoon, Mayor Karen Bass's office confirmed she is facilitating discussion between SEIU 99 and LAUSD, emphasizing that the parties involved are taking the lead.

But if and when negotiations settle, the key question will be: Is it enough?

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According to information provided by SEIU, the average union member's pay falls in the range of $17-$23 per hour, working an average of five to six hours a day, for the 180-day school year. Various combinations of math get you to the $25,000 annual salary that SEIU says is typical for their workers.

Many SEIU members say they work second and third jobs to supplement their incomes. That means a final contract, if and when it comes, may well have ripple effects across Southern California.

Many SEIU members have second jobs

Ashley Aguirre is a business management major at Cal State Los Angeles. She also works as a teacher’s aide at Griffin Avenue Elementary School, where she’s the SEIU Local 99 representative, and helping to coordinate picket lines.

“We’re facing our midterms this week,” Aguirre said. “It's been hard to balance both … I've had to contact professors and unfortunately, let them know that I've had to miss some classes."

She works about 25 hours each week and is paid $16.91 an hour.

“I recently had to start doing food delivery with Uber Eats,” she said. “I am not getting paid much and I still have my college expenses along with personal expenses that I simply can't keep up with living check to check.”

There are 28 other members of Local 99 at her school, she said, and nearly a third of them are college students. A spokesperson for the union said about 2,700 of its members — teachers’ assistants — are enrolled in college as a requirement for the job. There could be more union members in college.

"We’re breathing. We’re fine. We’re happy but it’s very tight."
— Ashley Contreras, instructional aide, 20th St. Elementary School
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Another Ashley has a similar predicament. Ashley Contreras is an instructional aide at 20th St. Elementary School and works a second job as a self-employed aesthetician. The mother of two said she's currently making $20,000 a year at LAUSD. She works early morning hours to about 2:15 p.m., followed by a second job until about 7:30 p.m.

On Wednesday, however, she began her morning on a picket line. By 11 a.m. she was rallying outside LAUSD’s downtown headquarters.

"Imagine that, not being able to see your kids because you have to work two jobs,” Contreras said. “And as a mom of two, how can we live? I don’t know, we’re breathing. We’re fine. We’re happy but it’s very tight."

A single mom of three kids, Felisa Garcia sleeps a handful of hours each night. She has her morning job as a parent representative (six hours) and her night job (another six hours). Parent representatives act as liaisons between community members and school employees.

"We're in the same situation, everybody has two jobs and I think it's not fair," she said. A new contract would mean she could take more time with her family, and maybe get some rest.

More strikes, everywhere

SEIU Local 99 workers helped pack lunches during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, they helped keep schools clean, they helped families get computer equipment to learn from home. They were called heroes.

“SEIU workers, they make the district go around and they’re the workers that get the least attention from the district,” said Channing Martinez, an organizing member of the Bus Riders Union, as he stood on the steps of LAUSD’s downtown headquarters, beating a drum in solidarity.

Parent representative Virginia Calderon has been working in LAUSD for years for $16 an hour, three hours a day. She said limited hours make it harder to engage with parents.

"(Schools) don't want to give you six hours, because then they need to give you benefits," she said.

She's now at Glen Alta Elementary School in Montecito Heights, and has four hours a day. LAUSD superintendent Alberto Carvalho said this week that a recent district offer included health insurance for employees who work at least four hours a day.

Earlier this week, Max Arias, executive director of SEIU Local 99, said a second strike is a possibility if the district does not meet the union's demands.

"Building people’s confidence starts with workers believing in themselves," said Jane McAlevey, a senior policy fellow with the U.C. Berkeley Labor Center. "And so a pandemic where they were told over and over ‘you really matter’ is now, fortunately, something workers are starting to believe about themselves."

McAlevey says the decision by the teachers union not to cross the picket lines is a trend we’ll see more of.

"We’re going to need a lot more strikes to reset the power structure," she said. "The workers who are harder to replace need to show their solidarity to the workers who are easier to be replaced in this society."

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