After contract talks stalled yesterday between LAUSD and the SEIU Local 99 union, which represents a wide variety of school support staff, the union called a three-day strike against the district, starting this morning at 4 a.m. The strike has closed all District schools through Thursday, affecting more than 420,000 students and their families. (The union is asking for a 30% wage increase and a $2/hr. wage adjustment for all of its employees, while LAUSD’s most recent offer comes to about 23%, with some retroactive payments and other adjustments for certain employees.)
During the strike period, union members and their supporters – including members of the United Teachers of Los Angeles – will be picketing at selected school sites from 6:30-10:00 a.m., and then holding rallies at specified locations in the afternoons (today’s rally will be at LAUSD headquarters in downtown Los Angeles from 12-3:00 p.m.).
While many of today’s picketers were enthusiastic, however, the weather – as it did during the six-day UTLA teachers’ strike in January 2019 – did its best to (quite literally) dampen spirits, with a three-day winter storm system moving in early this morning and predicted to continue throughout the strike period. But the protestors came prepared, including those at John Burroughs Middle School, who were well stocked with coffee and donuts to fuel the proceedings.
John Burroughs’ UTLA-affiliated teachers, including local resident Renee Senigram, also joined their SEIU colleagues on the picket line. “UTLA is standing in solidarity because SEIU workers can barely pay rent and put food on the table at their current salary,” said Senigram (second from right in the photo below).
Other local strike sites included LA High School, where strikers beat out a marching rhythm on plastic buckets…
…and another at Wilshire and Wilton, close to both Wilton Place and Wilshire Park elementary schools, where honks of approval from passing traffic supported the energetic chants of the picketers, who began to march east along Wilshire just a few minutes after this video was taken.
Local politicians showing solidarity with the strikers included City Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez, a former labor organizer, whose staff visited several school sites this morning, and U.S. Congressional Representative Adam Schiff, who was quoted by the LA Times saying that the $25,000 median income for LAUSD bus drivers, cafeteria workers and school aides amounts to “poverty wages.”
“People with some of the most important responsibilities in our schools should not have to live in poverty,” Schiff said in the Times story. “They deserve to work in dignity and live in dignity.”
Meanwhile, LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said several days before the strike that the union was “simply refusing to negotiate,” and added a statement today saying the school closures are “detrimental not only for academics but also for health and social emotional support.” But he also said the District is willing to continue talks with the union:
“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.
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.”
For more information on the work stoppage, including the union’s summary of the sticking points that led to the strike, and picket sites where sympathetic supporters can join the daily demonstrations and rallies, see SEIU’s strike information page.
Meanwhile, other city departments, agencies, and non-profit organizations are working hard to support the district’s families for the next three days. These include LAUSD’s Grab and Go free food distribution sites (where students can take up to six meals for the next three days), extended programming and recreation hours from the Department of Parks and Recreation, and free admission to the LA Zoo, the Natural History Museum, and the La Brea Tar Pits.