Above Photo: Education workers on strike in the pouring rain. United Teachers of Los Angeles.
Workers are fighting for salaries above their current poverty wages.
A demand which the the school district with a surplus of USD 5 billion has refused to accept
Los Angeles, California – 65,000 workers from Service Employees International Union Local 99 and United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) began a three-day strike on Tuesday, March 21. SEIU Local 99 workers are striking amidst contract negotiations around higher salaries, more full-time work schedules, better treatment, and more staffing. The SEIU workers represent a broad cross section of school staff, such as bus drivers, custodians, campus aides, and cafeteria workers. The union claims that apart from refusing to budge on key workers’ demands such as a 30% raise and more full time hours, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is also harassing and threatening workers for participating in union activity. As a result, in February, the union voted overwhelmingly (96%) to strike, and is now on a legally-protected, three-day unfair labor practices strike. Los Angeles teachers organized in the UTLA are striking alongside Local 99 in solidarity.
“The school pretty much could not run without them. That’s all the teachers’ aides that help us out, that I work really closely with. All of the cafeteria workers, that are just a necessity for students,” Dylan Gamez, a school counselor at Louis Armstrong Middle School, told Peoples Dispatch. “Without them, a fair amount of our students really wouldn’t be able to get through the day or even focus because they would go hungry. And then there are the bus drivers who are responsible for getting kids to school and custodial staff without whom schools could not even stay open for a single day, with how much there is for them to do.
“So they’re really, really necessary workers.” Gamez continued. “And so we’re out there supporting them.”
Local 99 workers make on average US$ 25,000 a year, a pittance in one of the most expensive cities in the United States, if not the world. According to Rent.com, the average price for a one bedroom apartment in Los Angeles is US$ 33,684 a year.
As a result, workers are demanding more full time hours (most workers work part time) and a 30% raise. But LAUSD, the union claims, is not budging. The district is offering to increase wages only by 3.7% per year. UTLA is also in contract negotiations with the district, and is demanding a 20% raise. Over 70% of Los Angeles teachers have considered quitting because they could not afford to live where they teach, and one in four work second jobs to make ends meet.
Meanwhile, LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho makes US$ 440,000 per year, more than the president of the United States. LAUSD has also accumulated US$ 4.9 billion in reserves from annual surpluses and COVID-19 stimulus payments. None of this has stopped LAUSD from ignoring the demands of unionized workers for fair pay.
On March 15, as the strike approached, Carvalho wrote “With a historic offer on the table that was created in direct response to SEIU’s demands, and with additional resources still to be negotiated, it is deeply surprising and disappointing that there is an unwillingness to do so…We need to reach a resolution that honors the work of our dedicated employees, while respecting the rights our children have to a quality education, meals and access to enriching school activities. I want to personally apologize to our families and our students. You deserve better.”
“The school district is, I think, out of touch with what students really need,” said UTLA member and teacher Eduardo Vargas, who works at Benjamin Franklin High School in Highland Park.
Dylan Gamez added, “They’re saying like, you know, we need to keep schools open for the kids…they’re creating this whole sob story.”
“But, you know, Carvalho has a ton of money,” Gamez said. “The demands for what people are asking are not really ridiculous. They’re asking for some simple wage increases, all things considered. I don’t think that the district is being very honest with their willingness to negotiate.”
On Wednesday, as workers entered their second day of striking, morale is high, said Vargas. “This is the first time that, in recent memory, SEIU and UTLA have united,” he said. “So I think it looks hopeful for us as long as people keep fighting.”