Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass opened up City Hall on Wednesday to host contract negotiations that had been stalled for weeks, marking her first public move to help resolve a disruptive school strike.
The talks are the first since the Los Angeles Unified School District and the union for support staff, SEIU Local 99, had their last negotiating session on March 3. The three-day strike started Tuesday, with workers staying home and teachers declaring a sympathy walkout.
“District officials have been in conversation with SEIU Local 99 leaders with the assistance and support of Mayor Bass,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said in a statement. “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 classrooms.”
The negotiations provide an opportunity for Bass — who was elected in November after defeating a well-funded opponent — to showcase her labor connections and the political skills she has developed over a long career as a community activist, speaker of the state Assembly and member of Congress.
Bass had been taking a more low-profile role in a dispute that has kept more than 400,000 kids out of school. She directed resources to help provide child care and other assistance but, unlike her two predecessors, was staying in the background of the dispute between labor and the district.
Her hosting of talks represents the first forward movement in the dispute since the union cut off discussions.
SEIU Local 99 has in recent days rebuffed offers from Carvalho to return to negotiating, saying it was awaiting contract recommendations from the Public Employment Relations Board. Schools have been shuttered since Tuesday morning, when 30,000 staffers, including custodians, bus drivers and cafeteria workers, formed a picket line.
Thousands of teachers represented by the United Teachers Los Angeles — which is separately negotiating its contract with the district — joined SEIU Local 99 on the picket line.
That has forced school district officials and local governments across more than two dozen jurisdictions to stand up childcare and educational programs for students who can’t stay at home.
SEIU Local 99 is calling for 30 percent raises, which would boost the average salaries of union members from 25,000 to about $36,000.
The district has, so far, countered with a 20 percent pay bump over several years, plus a 3 percent bonus and improved health care benefits.
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