L.A. Schools Shut Down


Kendal McCloud

Workers of the Los Angeles Unified School District, one of the largest public school systems, walked off the job on Tuesday over stalled contract talks. The LAUSD staff were joined by the teachers in solidarity for a three day strike.

Demonstrations started at a bus yard and at schools across the city by members of Local 99 of Service Employees International Union, which represents about 30,000 teachers’ aides, special education assistants, bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers, and many other support staff.

The workers stood at picket lines in the drizzling rain before dawn. They demanded better wages and increased staffing. The district has over 500,000 students from Los Angeles and all or part of 25 other cities and unincorporated county areas. Some workers help up signs that read, “We keep schools safe, Respect Us!”

“The working conditions have gone down every year,” Danielle Murray, a special education assistant who was picketing, told KABC-TV. “We’re very understaffed. The custodial staff is a ghost crew, so the schools are dirty. They’re doing the best they can.”

“Some people are saying, ‘If you want more money, get a better job.’ Well, some of us have bachelor’s degrees, but we choose to work with a special population that some people don’t want to work with. We want to make a difference to these students.” Murray added.

Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho accused the union of refusing to negotiate and said that he was prepared to meet at any time, day or night. He said Monday a “golden opportunity” to make progress was lost.

“I believe this strike could have been avoided. But it cannot be avoided without individuals actually speaking to one another,” Carvalho said.

Local 99 said Monday evening that it was in discussions with state labor regulators over the allegation that the district engaged in misconduct that has impeded the rights of workers to engage in legally protected union-related activities.

“We want to be clear that we are not in negotiations with LAUSD,” the union said in a statement. “We continue to be engaged in the impasse process with the state.” The statement also mentioned that those talks would not avoid a walkout.

During the strike, approximately 150 of the district’s more than 1,000 schools were expected to remain open with adult supervisions but no instruction, to give students somewhere to go. Dozens of libraries and parks, plus some “grab and go” spots for students to get lunches were open to kids to minimize the strain on parents who scrambled to find care.

“Schools are so much more than centers of education, they are a safety net for hundreds of thousands of Los Angeles families,” Los Angeles Mayor Kare Bass said in a statement on Monday. “We will make sure to do all we can to provided resources needed by the families of our city.”

However, workers said striking was the only option they had left.

Instructional aide Marlee Ostrow, who supports the strike, said she’s long overdue for a raise. The 67 year old was hired nearly two decades ago at $11.75 an hour, and today she make about $16.

“That isn’t enough to keep with inflation and rising housing prices,” Ostrow said. As of now, her duties have expanded from two classrooms to five. Ostrow blames the district’s low wages for job vacancies that have piled up in recent years.

“There’s not even anybody applying because you can make more money starting at Burger King,” Ostrow said. “A lot of people really want to help kids, and they shouldn’t be penalized for wanting to be their life’s work.”

The union said district support staffers earn on average about $25,000 per year and many live in poverty because of low pay or limited work hours while struggling with inflation and the high cost of living in LA County. The union is asking for a 30 percent raise. Teachers want a 20 percent pay increase over two years.

Carvalho said the district has offered a wage increase totaling more than 20 percent over a multiyear period, along with a three percent bonus. In addition, the deal would include a “massive expansion of healthcare benefits,” the superintendent told Fox 11 on Monday.

SEIU members have been working without a contract since June 2020, while the contract for teachers expired in June 2022. The union decided last week to stop accepting the extension to their contracts.

United Teachers Los Angeles, the union representing 35,000 educators, counselors, nurses, and other staff expressed solidarity with their striking co-workers.

“Educators will be joining our union siblings on the picket lines,” a UTLA tweet said.