Classrooms in the Los Angeles area were closed for a third day Thursday as school workers capped off a massive strike demanding increased wages and better working conditions.
The Service Employees International Union Local 99, which represents about 30,000 Los Angeles school custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and other student services staff, began picketing Tuesday with the support of the district’s teachers after nearly a year of unsuccessful negotiations with the school district.
The three-day strike was ending with a rally at the Los Angeles State Historic Park on Thursday, where union members in the nation’s second-largest school district will “issue their strong, unified call for LAUSD to bargain fairly,” SEIU Local 99 said. .
School workers plan to return to school on Friday, according to the union.
Frustrated union members say they feel undervalued by low wages, minimal staffing and inadequate hours even as they provide essential services to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s students. The union says workers’ average salary is $25,000, requiring many to work additional jobs.
“We live in this weird paradox as workers that help feed children and yet we struggle to feed our own children,” union member Adrian Alverez told News84Media affiliate KCAL. “We help students go to college, yet we don’t have enough money to send our kids to college.”
The union is demanding “equitable wage increases, more full-time work, respectful treatment, and increased staffing levels for improved student services.”
The United Teachers Los Angeles union, which is undergoing separate contact negotiations with the district, is honoring the workers’ strike and has urged its 35,000 members to join picket lines and rallies.
The district said Wednesday it had been “in conversation” with the school workers union and is working to resolve the strike.
“We continue to do everything possible to reach an agreement that honors the hard work of our employees, corrects historic inequities, maintains the financial stability of the District and brings students back to the classroom. We are hopeful these talks continue and look forward to updating our school community on a resolution,” the district said in a statement.
District superintendent Alberto Carvalho acknowledged Tuesday that the strike is a result of a years-long “crescendo of frustration” on behalf of workers but told News84Media, “We should not be depriving our students of an opportunity to learn.”
The strike has left many of the district’s more than 500,000 students scrambling for child care options.
“So far, my wife has planned to take a couple days off work and maybe stay home with the kids and I’m going to have to do more overtime,” parent Armando Basulto told KABC.
Rachel Wagner, whose 9-year-old son attends school in Encino, told News84Media she supports the workers’ actions and believes better pay would alleviate staffing shortages and decrease turnover.
“At the end of the day, you know, their working conditions are our child’s learning conditions,” Wagner said.
After nearly a year of gridlocked negotiations, the district and union have yet to reach a bargain, though Carvalho told News84Media the district is prepared to work toward a potentially “precedent-setting contract.”
The two parties had planned to participate in a confidential mediation process Monday, but the union refused to come to the table after a district spokesperson shared details of the planned negotiations.
Members of the Los Angeles schools’ support workers union are demanding, in part:
• A 30% pay raise, plus an additional $2 an hour over the next four years
• Increased employment hours for part-time workers
The latest offers announced by the Los Angeles school district on Monday included:
• A 23% recurring pay increase, plus a 3% cash-in-hand bonus
• A $20-an-hour minimum wage
• Full health care benefits for those working at least four hours a day.
Carvalho said Tuesday that the district is willing to resume negotiations and recognized the “historic inequities” that many of the district’s staff members face.
“Years of substandard compensation levels that – quite frankly, in a community like Los Angeles where the cost of living (and) the cost of housing are so high – have put our workforce, particularly the lowest wage earners, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodial staff, in a position where they cannot live in the communities where they work,” Carvalho told News84Media.
As classes remain on hold due to the strike, the district has announced several measures to assist families, some of which rely on the daily meals provided to their children at school.
Daytime supervision is available at more than 150 schools. Additionally, 30 recreation centers are hosting a Special Edition After School Club Program for elementary school students and 18 county recreation and park sites are hosting drop-in “Everybody Plays” programs with open gyms and recreation equipment.
The Los Angeles County Zoo is also providing free admission to district students and a “community Safari Day” program for elementary school students.
On Monday, some families picked up six grab-and-go meals per student at two dozen distribution sites, although the city has since ended the program.
Still, some parents worry that the support services are not enough, including Stephanie Freidenriech, whose son Charles is a high school sophomore.
“He’s old enough that I’m not worried about him,” Freidenriech told KABC of her son. “I’m really more concerned about the other kids missing school, younger kids and parents who have to worry about daycare.”
“Ultimately, I feel that they’re probably being left behind in a battle between adults,” parent Mike Bernstein told the affiliate.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated when the strike began. It started Tuesday.