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LAUSD Schools Shut Down As Support Staff Go On Strike. Here Are The Details

A Black woman in a black raincoat holds a megaphone as a crowd of adults around her march back and forth in the rain.
School support staff members are striking for better treatment and better pay from Los Angeles Unified School District. The teachers union has joined the strike in solidarity.
(Ashley Balderrama
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Service Employees International Local 99, the union representing 30,000 bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians and other support staff across the Los Angeles Unified School District, has started a three-day strike today.

The teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), has instructed its members not to cross the picket line — effectively bringing the nation's second-largest school district to a halt.

Last week, LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho announced that such a strike would likely lead to the shutdown of L.A. Unified schools for the duration. In a statement from LAUSD, Carvalho 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.”

Last Wednesday, SEIU organized a joint rally with United Teachers Los Angeles, the union representing 35,000 educators across LAUSD.

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What's the latest?

The strike began early Tuesday morning as rain swept back into Southern California.

Negotiations are confidential, which means LAist can't verify the details of bargaining sessions or other communications between parties.

In a statement released Monday evening, the union said it had agreed to enter a confidential mediation process with LAUSD, but ended that process after word started to spread of movement toward compromise.

"LAUSD immediately broke our confidentiality agreement and went to the L.A. Times before our members even had a chance to talk or consider anything," said Max Arias, executive director of SEIU Local 99, at a Tuesday press conference in Koreatown. "Enough is enough."

We are on strike today because it's workers' last resort ... Our members dare demand better for them, their families, and their students.
— Max Arias, executive director, SEIU Local 99

Congressmember Adam Schiff, who's currently running for the U.S. Senate, expressed solidarity at Tuesday's press conference. He says workers should enjoy a decent living.

"A lot of the folks that we're talking about, the bus drivers and the special aid assistants, they're parents too. Their kids are in school," he said. "You can't live on $25,000."

Schiff says workers should be paid more — at least $36,000 a year.

What should I know if I'm a parent?

In addition to classes, most student activities have been cancelled. Most dual enrollment classes have also been cancelled, according to Nicole Albo-Lopez, who manages educational programs in the Los Angeles Community College District.

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LAUSD, with the help of community partnerships, is offering some child care and some meals, and has said parents should expect students to receive work packets to do at home.

Here's our guide to child care and resources during the strike.

Many parents have said they'll do their best to ride out the strike, although many have told LAist they are struggling with child care.

Leila Pirnia has two children in LAUSD. She says schools need more money in general.

"There's so much like, blaming this group or blaming that group and money's not managed right," she said. "And like, when there's only $5 to go around, there's only so much you could do with those $5."

What is this strike about?

In a statement released last Thursday, Arias said this strike is about "respect," and that SEIU members have been subjected to threats and other forms of harassment by the district. Arias said unfair labor practice charges will be filed with the California Public Employment Relations Board against LAUSD.

SEIU Local 99 is asking for:

  • A 30% raise over four years 
  • A $2 per hour raise 
  • More (longer) work hours 
  • Health benefits
  • A stop to private contractors

SEIU says the average union member makes $25,000 a year. The pay ranges from about $17-23/hour. They work the 180 calendar days of a school year doing part-time work, an average of five to six hours a day. They aren’t paid during holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, spring break and more. Many SEIU members say they work second and third jobs.

“We’re an ecosystem, an educational ecosystem, and we want the community to know that our intent is not to bankrupt the district, it is not to disrupt education, it is not to make things difficult," said Santos Robles, an IT solutions technician at LAUSD and SEIU Local 99 member. "But it is to get what we’re asking for, which is dignity and respect through a pay raise which is nothing beyond extraordinary.”

What's happening at the strike?

LAUSD workers launched the strike this morning at multiple spots, with larger demonstrations at the district's headquarters, a Van Nuys school bus yard and at Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in Koreatown.

Matilde Hernandez, a special education assistant in LAUSD, told LAist that she believes the union will continue to fight for the 30% raise.

"As things are increasing economically, things are out of control, we're not making it," Hernandez said.

Striking on Normandie Avenue, Laura Saenz, another special education assistant, said the district needs to show respect for its workers. She says members are asked to do more than they're supposed to, all while being unable to make ends meet.

"We do a lot for our students, for our parents, our community, and we need to be recognized," Saenz said. "[Carvalho] needs to accept that L.A. is not the same like Miami. It's different and we're more stronger than they are."

What the district is offering

On Monday night, Carvalho said the district's latest offer had gotten closer to the union's position: "We began these bargaining sessions with historic proposals on the table, and that's where we are at this point, with the last proposal being a 23% increase, a recurring increase, in addition to a 3% cash-in-hand bonus."

The district has previously said it is also offering:

  • A 15% wage increase.
  • Health benefits to those who work at least four hours a day
  • Raising the L.A. Unified minimum wage to more than $20 an hour.
  • A $3 million investment in an Education and Professional Development Fund for SEIU members.

Why UTLA is involved

Leadership for the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, told its members not to cross the picket line. Together, both unions make up 65,000 workers across LAUSD.

“We have more in common with each other than we do with the boss, with Carvalho,” Arlene Inouye, UTLA’s secretary and bargaining team co-chair, said. The union is also seeking a new contract with the district after its current contract expired last June.

Two weeks ago UTLA terminated its contract with the district, which allows members more freedom in supporting SEIU’s strike, according to Inouye. She said UTLA members have been encouraged to connect with their “brothers and sisters in SEIU.”

When will the strike end?

The strike is scheduled to last for three days and end on Thursday, March 23, but it’s possible staff could return to work sooner.

“It depends on the district’s willingness to engage in a forthright manner with our bargaining team,” Arias said in an interview Monday night.

Arias said the union could call for another strike if its economic demands aren’t met as contract negotiations continue.

“I don't know if one day is enough,” Arias said. “It's not just about wages, as you heard, it's about many things to ensure that there's enough support for students and for teachers to teach and students to learn.”

Tell us your story

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