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More than 30,000 Los Angeles Unified School District employees and teachers picketed outside schools throughout the city this week during a three-day strike that is expected to last from March 21-23.
Public schools were closed citywide during the strike led by Service Employees International Union Local 99, which represents support staff including school bus drivers, cafeteria workers, teaching assistants and special education aides. Members of United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents LAUSD teachers, also picketed in support of their fellow campus colleagues.
SEIU Local 99 is seeking a 30% increase in wages for support staff employees, many of whom earn approximately $25,000 per year, salaries far below the poverty level, organizers said. Negotiations have been ongoing with the LAUSD for nearly a year prior to the strike, they said.
“As LAUSD parents and workers, SEIU Local 99 members know a strike will be a sacrifice but the school district has pushed workers to take this action,” SEIU Local 99 executive director Max Arias said in a statement. “Families have been sacrificing for far too long on poverty wages. Students have been sacrificing for too long in school environments that are not clean, safe or supportive for all. Too many workers have been subjected to harassment simply for demanding change. Enough is enough.”
LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the district hopes to return to bargaining. The LAUSD is offering a 23% wage increase and a 3% cash bonus.
“We remain ready to return to negotiations with SEIU Local 99 so we can provide an equitable contract to our hardworking employees and get our students back in classrooms,” Carvalho said in a statement. “I understand our employees’ frustration that has been brewing, not just for a couple of years, but probably for decades. And it is on the basis of recognizing historic inequities that we have put on the table a historic proposal. This offer addresses the needs and concerns from the union, while also remaining fiscally responsible and keeping the district in a financially stable position.”
Union members from SEIU Local 99 and UTLA selected 500 schools throughout the city including John Burroughs Middle School and Fairfax High School, where approximately 75 people braved heavy rain and wind on March 21to picket. The group included teachers and SEIU union members.
“The SEIU workers, many of their children are our students,” said Rafael Buelna, chair of the UTLA chapter at Fairfax High and a history teacher at the school. “We need our students to live in families that earn a living wage. Those families need to be able to afford living near our schools. I mean, even teachers, with our salaries, we can’t afford to live near our school.”
Loneata Brown, an LAUSD employee and SEIU Local 99 member who works in the Career and Transition Center West at Fairfax High School, said many employees are struggling to survive.
“We would like a 30% raise, and also pay for more hours. Many of us are getting paid for part-time work and are working full-time hours,” Brown said.
Eric Flores, another employee at the Career and Transition Center West, said some employees start at $14 per hour.
“Most of them have a second job to get by,” Flores added. “It’s very hard for them. This is why we are here, to get decent pay.”
SEIU Local 99 and UTLA members picketed outside John Burroughs Middle School, chanting and calling for better wages and working conditions.
“We’ve had lots of SEIU members as well as UTLA members and community activists show up in full force to picket on behalf of SEIU,” said Renee Senigram, the UTLA representative at Burroughs High School. “I do feel that progress is being made. I am sure that this strike will have a huge impact on future bargaining. It is important to support all unions as a union member, but it’s important especially to support all educators. Everyone deserves a fair raise. Current SEIU wages are below the poverty line and most of the SEIU members have to work second and third jobs to make ends meet, to pay rent and to put food on the table for their children. It is a moral obligation to stand by our fellow educators as they fight for a fair pay raise.”
Linda Crowder, principal at Rosewood STEM Magnet Urban Planning and Urban Design, a campus located at 503 N. Croft Ave., said she notified parents and provided lessons ahead of the strike to keep students active with learning. Crowder said the support staff is an important component in enabling the school to function, and she supports the rights of workers to fight for fair wages and equal treatment. Crowder added that she is hopeful a resolution is reached soon and is eager to see her 260 students return on March 24.
“A school is intended for children, and it’s not a school if we don’t have our children here,” Crowder said. “The plan is my students will return on Friday.”
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said in a March 22 statement that she is privately working with all parties to come to an agreement.
During the strike, the city is offering daycare services for students at recreation centers in parks throughout the city, including Pan Pacific Park, 7600 Beverly Blvd., and Poinsettia Park, 7341 Willoughby Ave. in the Melrose District. The sites are also offering Grab and Go meals provided by LAUSD.
On March 21, a steady line of cars formed in front of the Pan Pacific Park Recreation Center and LAUSD employees handed food to drivers. The Grab and Go Centers will remain open from 7:30-10:30 a.m. during the strike.
Inside the recreation center, approximately 50 children took part in activities. Capacity for children was capped at 50, and there is a waiting list, said Eric Calhoun, senior recreation director at Pan Pacific Park. Calhoun added that it was important for the park to be a place to fulfill the needs of families.
“It was all hands on deck. We were ready,” Calhoun said. “There was definitely a demand. I’m glad parents were able to have a place to bring children and also get food if they need it.”
The Los Angeles Zoo is offering free admission to LAUSD students ($5 for chaperones) during the strike. Zoo spokesman Carl Myers said 228 LAUSD students received free admission on March 21. For information visit lazoo.org/lausd.
The La Brea Tar Pits and the Natural History Museum in Exposition Park are also offering free general admission to LAUSD students and chaperones during the strike. Free general admission tickets will be available only onsite at the museums. The La Brea Tar Pits is located at 5801 Wilshire Blvd., and the Natural History Museum is located at 900 Exposition Blvd. For information, visit nhm.org and tarpits.org.
SEIU and UTLA union members planned to continue picketing through March 23, and vowed to continue fighting for higher wages until an agreement is reached with the LAUSD.
“I hope that both sides get back to the bargaining table and both sides realize that they both have to compromise,” Buelna said. “The district has to realize that they can’t do the work without SEIU.”
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