LAUSD Files Legal Challenge to Avoid Strike and School Closures

Los Angeles Unified officials are staging a final legal challenge to block or prevent a three-day strike that would close classrooms in the nation’s second-largest school district starting Tuesday.

The district has asked state labor regulators to issue an injunction to end the strike, alleging it is illegal. District sources acknowledged they were unsure whether the Employment Public Relations Commission would act on the filing in time to prevent the strike.

The challenge cites the unusual legal basis and timing of the walkout, which would occur before the typical step-by-step negotiation process is complete.

The strike is led by Service Employees International Union Local 99, which represents about 30,000 bus drivers, teacher aides, campus security aides, special education assistants, guards, groundskeepers and cafeteria workers. United Teachers Los Angeles leaders encouraged their members to join the strike. UTLA represents approximately 35,000 teachers, nurses, counsellors, therapists and librarians.

Each union is on a separate bargaining track with LA Unified. Local 99 is further along in the process, having reached the investigation stage, according to documents filed with state labor regulators.

Typically, fact-finding would be completed before a strike. In addition, both sides are also expected to present their “last, best and final offer”.

But this professional action is different.

This is actually a protest by Local 99 in response to alleged illegal acts by LA Unified that the union’s allegations prevented its officers and members from engaging in lawful union activities.

The district denies any wrongdoing. In its filing, the District accuses Local 99 of using unsubstantiated allegations as a pretext when, in fact, the real issue leading to the strike is the District’s unwillingness to meet union demands for wages, benefits social and other conditions.

The filing also seeks an injunction simply because some Local 99 members are “essential employees” whose absence from work during the strike would “imminently threaten public health and safety.”

The LA Unified filing also notes that the state labor board “has ruled that strikes or other work stoppages prior to the completion of ‘the bargaining process’ violate the union’s duty to bargain in good faith and/or participate in good faith to resolve the impasse process.”

Local 99 did not have a chance to review the injunction filing and did not provide an immediate response early Friday evening.

A settlement that would prevent the strike seemed unlikely on Friday because no negotiations took place between LA Unified officials and Local 99.

The teachers’ union negotiated with the district on Friday, but a settlement in those negotiations also seemed unlikely. And, even a settlement with UTLA wouldn’t stop Local 99 members from walking out.

Local 99 last held a bargaining session with the District on March 1st. Superintendent of LA Schools. Alberto Carvalho said this week that he and his team were ready to meet with Local 99 “around the clock” to prevent a strike.

He urged the union not to take a step that would further harm students who are already struggling to recover academically and emotionally from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Union officials suggest the effort was insincere and too little, too late.

“More than half of SEIU Local 99 members are also parents of school-age children, many of whom are students at LAUSD,” spokeswoman Blanca Gallegos said Friday. “We are fully aware of the impact a strike will have on our families. LAUSD pushed workers to take this step because of their continued disrespect for workers who are simply looking to improve their livelihoods and the student services they provide.

She added, “SEIU Local 99 also continues to go through the process of legal mediation with the state. If LAUSD is to break the stalemate process, they must meet workers’ demands for a living wage, increased hours, more staff, and respect in the workplace.

The union is asking for a general raise of 30% plus an additional $2 an hour for the lowest paid workers.

The district was offering a 15% raise over three years plus one-time bonuses of 4% and 5% in consecutive years.

On Friday, the district amended its offer:

  • One-time bonus of 5% for the 2020-21 school year
  • Continuous increase of 5% for 2021-2022
  • Continuous increase of 5% for 2022-2023
  • Continuous increase of 6% for 2023-2023
  • Continuous increase of 3% for 2024-2025

Meanwhile, the school system, city, county and local groups continue to prepare contingency plans for a walkout.
LA Unified has launched to provide resources for families during the downtime. Updates and additional information will be released “as they become available,” according to the school system.

The website includes information about learning activities, Grab & Go dining locations, tutoring services, enrichment activities, and cultural opportunities at Los Angeles and Los Angeles County Park locations that will offer free programs for young people.

Principals will also contact families daily to provide relevant updates, the district said.

The school system will also post updates on social media.

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