The second biggest school district in the US was closed Tuesday as tens of thousands of employees and teachers went on strike over stalled contract negotiations in Los Angeles.
Thousands of teachers’ aides, special education assistants, bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers and other SEIU Local 99 members in LA’s Unified School District joined picket lines Tuesday morning to demand better wages and increased staffing.
Some 35,000 teachers joined the strike in solidarity, forcing more than 1,000 schools in and around Los Angeles to close for the day and leaving over 500,000 students without classes. Workers began picketing at 4:30 a.m. over conditions that staff say have worsened each passing year.
“The working conditions have gone down every year,” Danielle Murphy, a special education assistant who was out 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.”
Special education assistant Fatima Grayson said a considerable number of the union members have to take on a second job in order to survive.
“We’re not getting an equitable wage to feed families, have housing,” Grayson reportedly said.
The union claims many of its workers earn “poverty wages” of $25,000 a year. They are asking for a 30% pay raise with an additional boost for the workers who are paid the least.
In addition to salary demands, the union has blamed staffing shortages on the district’s reliance on low-wage, part-time workers.
“People with some of the most important responsibilities in our schools should not have to live in poverty,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat who is running for US Senate, at a news conference with the United Teachers Los Angeles union.
Instructional aide Marlee Ostrow, 67, said she was hired two decades ago at an hourly rate of $11.75. Now she makes only $16, a raise that is well below inflation. She said the district has trouble filling jobs because they don’t offer competitive pay.
“There’s not even anybody applying because you can make more money starting at Burger King,” she said. “A lot of people really want to help kids, and they shouldn’t be penalized for wanting that to be their life’s work.”
LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who has been in his role for about a year, acknowledged that workers had been underpaid for years but failed to meet the union’s request.
According to the district, Carvalho offered the union a 5% wage increase retroactive to July 2021, a 5% increase retroactive to July 2022 and another 5% increase effective July 2023.
That offer rose to a 23% increase with a 3% “cash-in-hand bonus” on Monday even after Carvalho accused the union of refusing to negotiate.
“I believe this strike could have been avoided. But it cannot be avoided without individuals actually speaking to one another,” he said.
SEIU said Monday that it was in discussions with state labor regulators over allegations that the district engaged in misconduct that has impeded the rights of workers to engage in union activities.
“We want to be clear that we are not in negotiations with the LAUSD,” the union said in a statement. “We continue to be engaged in the impasse process with the state.”
Union workers have been working without a contract since June 2020.
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass shared a message of support for the thousands of families whose children are affected by the strike.
“Schools are so much more than centers of education — they are a safety net for hundreds of thousands of Los Angeles families,” Bass said. “We will make sure to do all we can to provide resources needed by the families of our city.
With Post wires.
The post Los Angeles schools close as district workers strike appeared first on New York Post.