LAUSD teachers and staff are on strike for Tuesday, closing schools

LAUSD teachers and staff are on strike for Tuesday, closing schools

  • US News
  • March 16, 2023
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A three-day strike to close public schools in Los Angeles is scheduled to begin Tuesday, union leaders announced Wednesday during a massive downtown rally from the borough’s two largest workers’ groups.

LA Schools Supt. Alberto Carvalho on Wednesday urged union leaders to negotiate “around the clock” to avert the strike, which he said would further harm more than 420,000 students trying to academically and emotionally disconnect from the COVID 19 pandemic that forced her to distance learning to learn more than year.

Union leaders responded that they had the long-term interests of students and workers in mind with their demands for higher wages and better working and learning conditions.

The expected strike by up to 65,000 workers would represent the largest and longest total disruption to education in the country’s second-largest school system since the six-day teachers’ strike of 2019. Not even the pandemic-related campus closure that lasted more than a year in Los Angeles resulted in a complete halt to academic instruction.

The Grand Park rally drew thousands of participants and filled such a large portion of the park that giant loudspeakers could not even reach the participants more than a block away, with members of the Service Employees International Union’s Local 99 purple and members of the United Teachers Los Angeles wore red.

Thousands of people gather for a rally in Grand Park in front of City Hall in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

The Grand Park rally drew thousands of participants and filled so much of the park that speakers could not even reach participants more than a block away.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

“We have to be prepared to stay strong,” Local 99 executive director Max Arias told The Times. “I want to show the city of LA that we must go on strike to improve the schools, even if the students may be absent for a few days. Ultimately, we need clean, safe schools for all.”

He said the total contract demands would increase his members’ average salary from $25,000 to $36,000.

“We’ve been at the table for 26 meetings,” said teachers union president Cecily Myart-Cruz. “And we’ve been there since May. And it has moved very little. There were a few things we agreed on. But we want to talk about all of our ‘Beyond Recovery’ contract proposals because we know that our working conditions are the learning conditions of our students.”

The UTLA proposals call for sustained funding for special programs to support black students, smaller classes and efforts to create affordable housing for low-income families.

The threatened strike would be led by Local 99, which represents about 30,000 workers, including bus drivers, janitors, cafeteria and other food service workers, campus security assistants, teaching assistants and student aid workers with disabilities.

Erick Sanchez plays the tuba.

Erick Sanchez plays tuba as LA Unified union members gather in Grand Park on Wednesday.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Local 99 would join a solidarity strike by UTLA, which represents 35,000 teachers, counselors, therapists, nurses and librarians.

The rally came after a morning press conference by Carvalho, in which he said he and district negotiators were ready to meet to avoid a strike.

“I have 2, 3, 4 chairs around the table,” said Carvalho. “And I am committed 24/7, day and night… to finding a solution that avoids, averts a strike, prevents children from staying at home, prevents children in our community from going hungry, without access to food, that they have to go to school.”

Fifth grade teacher Marisol Cabrera arrived at Grand Park dressed in red with colleagues from South Gate’s Montara Avenue Elementary School. She carried a cutout from Carvalho in one hand and an iPad in the other.

The 27-year veteran zoomed into a mandatory school assembly with her handheld device while marching with a 3ft sign on her chest that read, “Carvalho doesn’t care about our kids!”

“We’re here in solidarity with our Local 99 friends to say we want to be in class, we want to teach and we don’t accept the narrative that we’re closing schools,” said Cabrera, 50.

For the record:

8:29 pm March 15, 2023 A previous version of this article said that Special Education Assistant Amy Rendon makes $20 an hour. She makes $24 an hour.

Also at the rally was special education teacher Amy Rendon, a 32-year-old mother of one toddler who works with children at Evergreen Elementary in Boyle Heights, changing diapers, hand-feeding them, whatever is needed. She makes $24 an hour for a six-hour shift a day in a position that starts at $19 an hour. Her caseload is too large, she said, and students receive too little attention and consistency due to turnover.

School board president Jackie Goldberg – who had previously expressed optimism there would be no strike – appeared less certain on Wednesday.

“It’s the first time since I’ve been doing this that there’s no back and forth,” Goldberg said. “There was a statement of, ‘That’s it. And that’s it.’ These are not negotiations. That makes me very disappointed.”

Carvalho said that Local 99 has not responded to the district’s two most recent offers.

A Local 99 spokesman said the fault for the stalled talks rests with the district.

“LAUSD had two months to negotiate with SEIU Local 99 members,” said Blanca Gallegos. “You never got in touch with us. During the mediation process, they made no significant movement. SEIU Local 99 has not moved away from the negotiating table. We are currently at an impasse and pursuing the legal process for negotiations.”

A crowd gathers in Grand Park in front of City Hall in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday.

The expected strike by up to 65,000 workers would mark the largest and longest total disruption to education in the country’s second-largest school system since the six-day teachers’ strike of 2019.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Leaders from both unions accused the district leaders of negotiating their wide range of proposals in bad faith and of not allocating sufficient district reserves to contract offers.

In his comments, Carvalho aimed at the union’s focus on the school system’s expected $4.9 billion final balance sheet for the current school year. He said union leaders are giving their members “false hope” because most of this funding is either already earmarked for future spending, is restricted for special purposes, or is one-off funding that should not be used for ongoing wage increases.

He added that the district is still prepared to expand its current offer if union leaders return to the negotiating table.

Carvalho said the district is in talks with community groups about how they can help distribute meals on school days and help with childcare for families. The district is also preparing academic materials for students to take home, he said.

Beyond the negotiating table, both the school district and the union compete for public opinion.

The teachers’ union enjoyed widespread public support for their 2019 strike. Months later, however, local voters rejected a school tax increase supported by the union and the school district.

There is strong potential support for teachers if negotiations stall, according to a new poll by Loyola Marymount University.

Pollsters asked: LAUSD teachers demanded a raise. If collective bargaining fails to reach an agreement, would you support or oppose LAUSD teachers who are striking to meet their demands?

Among LA residents, 39% had strong support for a strike and 37% had some support. Only 10% were strongly opposed to a strike and 14% were more likely to be against a strike.

Support for a strike was also relatively strong among parents, with 79% of Los Angeles County residents with one child at home reporting support.

Meanwhile, Carvalho had medium to positive reviews. Among school district residents: 16% gave it an A; 29% B, 36% C; 13% a D and 9% an F. Carvalho became superintendent 13 months ago after a long tenure at the helm of Miami’s schools.

The survey, conducted Jan. 4 through Feb. 5, included telephone sessions, online and in-person surveys of 2,008 adults living in Los Angeles County. The survey was conducted in English, Spanish, Mandarin and Korean. The LAUSD superintendent degree question was only asked of the City of Los Angeles respondents. The strike support question was asked nationwide.

Historically, strikes have been relatively rare in LA Unified and this one would be particularly unusual given the coordination between the two unions. Also, the strike is not about deadlocked negotiations, but about allegations by Local 99 that the school district illegally interfered with the union-related activities of its members. Neither union has exhausted the typical negotiation process, which includes time for mediation and fact-finding.

Carvalho said he authorized his legal team to consider measures that would delay or prevent the strike, but did not elaborate on what those would be.

A crowd, mostly dressed in red, gathers for a rally.

Sylvia Garcia of Bassett Street Elementary School, center, speaks through a megaphone during Wednesday’s Grand Park rally.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Goldberg said she believes a deal can be reached quickly.

“We have the resources to make this the best deal in the country in both SEIU and UTLA, the best deal across the country — ongoing, not one-off — ongoing because we value our people,” she said.

Local 99 leaders recently declared an impasse in negotiations and are moving through the mediation and fact-finding process. The union, which has yet to resolve wage issues from the 2020-21 school year, is targeting a 30 per cent increase for all members, with an additional increase for the lowest paid workers.

The district is offering a 5% ongoing pay increase retroactive to July 1, 2021, an additional 5% ongoing pay increase retroactive to July 1, 2022, and a 5% pay increase beginning July 1, 2023. Employees would receive a one-time “retention bonus” of 4% for the current school year and a one-time bonus of 5% for the following year.

The teachers’ union is targeting a 20% pay increase over two years, starting with 10% for the current school year.

The district’s offer includes a 5% rolling salary increase plus a one-time 4% bonus for the current year and an additional 5% rolling salary increase plus a 5% bonus for the next year.

A round of negotiations with the teachers’ union is scheduled for Friday. Local 99 has not yet agreed on a date for the next meeting, Carvalho said. Local 99 said it continues to negotiate in a responsible manner.

“We are currently awaiting the state Public Employment Relations Board to set up a panel so we can begin the fact finding process that is part of the dead end process,” Gallegos said.

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