Los Angeles teachers and other workers plan three-day strike as labor issues soar

The Los Angeles teachers’ union plans to join a planned three-day strike — possibly within two weeks — with thousands of non-teaching LA Unified workers, actions that would likely close schools amid an explosion of worker discontent.

The industrial action would be led by Local 99 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents 30,000 cafeteria workers, bus drivers, guards, special education assistants and others. Local 99 would be joined by United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents about 35,000 teachers, counselors, therapists, nurses and librarians.

Local 99 is at an impasse with the district after months of negotiations for a general raise of 30% and more for the lowest salaries. He will announce the timing of his three-day strike at a rally on Wednesday with the teachers’ union. A settlement would avoid a strike.

“In three days, we can show the district that we are fed up with their disrespect and are not afraid to take strong action to demand respect for our work,” Local 99 said in a statement. e-mail to members on Saturday. “This is a legal strike to protest unfair district practices, including threats, interrogations and surveillance of members who participated in last month’s strike vote.”

An unfair practice strike — for a fixed period — can take place without going through the steps of the traditional bargaining process, the two unions say.

United Teachers Los Angeles is also in the throes of union negotiations, seeking a 20% pay raise over two years and a long list of initiatives. On Friday, the union sent a letter to the LA Unified Superintendent. Alberto Carvalho saying he is ending his contract with the district, a legal maneuver that would allow its members to join the Local 99 strike, according to information posted online by the union.

The joint rally with Local 99 aims to demonstrate the strength of union solidarity, increasing the pressure on the district. If Local 99 fails to reach an agreement, the teachers would stay home or picket alongside them, the union said in an online post.

“Termination of the contract absolves LAUSD of the execution of a frivolous legal argument they raised in 2019 that termination of the contract must occur before … UTLA as an organization can engage” in a strike, says a union FAQ. The union was referring to an attempt by LA Unified to delay or stop what became a six-day teachers’ strike in January 2019.

Local 99 previously terminated its contract with the district, paving the way for its walkout. Local 99 said in a statement that it was canceling its contract “in protest at LAUSD’s harassment of workers who participated in union activities, including a strike vote last month. Canceling the contract also ends a “no-strike” clause, bringing workers one step closer to a possible strike to protest the district’s illegal practices. »

While attention is usually focused on teachers because of their vital role and political clout, the contribution of Local 99 members is also essential. Students rely on meals cooked and served by members of Local 99. Its members drive buses, provide supervision during breaks and before and after school, keep washrooms stocked and cleaned, and help take care of students with disabilities. But many job categories are poorly paid — at LA Unified and elsewhere.

The average annual salary for the unit with teaching aids, including those for special education, is $27,531. The average for the unit that includes bus drivers, janitors and food service workers is $31,825. Teacher assistants earn an average of $22,657. Those in the unit that includes after-school program workers average $14,576.

The vast majority, approximately 24,000 members of Local 99, work less than eight hours a day. About 6,000 eight-hour jobs. Many union members are in households with school-aged students, many of them at LA Unified.

The teachers’ union has been firm in telling members to support a Local 99 strike.

“You don’t go to work,” advised UTLA. “You should join the [Local 99] picket line at your school site. If there is no picket line at your school site, you should join one at a neighboring school. There will be rallies during the strike and everyone should plan to attend as well.

In a statement Wednesday, LA Unified acknowledged the possibility of a strike: “SEIU Local 99 has given 10 days notice of its intent to terminate its contract with Los Angeles Unified. This action brings them closer to a strike, which would significantly disrupt education and negatively impact our entire system.

The district has posted on social media that its offers to employees are fair. In a tweet, Carvalho said: “I care deeply about the well-being of our dedicated staff and students. We must continue to meet with our union partners to keep our schools open to students, which should always be our first priority. I hope we can reach an agreement as soon as possible.

In touting the benefits of its wage proposal to Local 99, LA Unified said its minimum wage of $20 an hour would exceed by at least 25% what is required by Los Angeles County, as well as by California.

“To reach a speedy conclusion and achieve a fair deal for our hardworking staff while maintaining our ability to serve students, Los Angeles Unified has presented a historic and comprehensive offer,” the district said.

UTLA’s letter to the district accuses him of unreasonably clinging to a multi-billion dollar reserve and negotiating in bad faith. The letter states that LA Unified has “barely budged in its position on critical issues such as class sizes, staff ratios, compensation, special education, black student success plan, community schools, etc.”.

Teachers are asking for a 10% raise for each of the next two years. The district offered a raise of 5% per year plus two one-time 5% bonuses. Carvalho indicated there was room to offer more, but suggested the union needs to compromise on other issues.

The teachers’ union has a complex “Beyond Recovery” platform that goes far beyond wages and benefits. UTLA calls for guaranteed continuity of programs to elevate education for black students and efforts to provide housing for low-income families — though it’s unclear which of these planks the union would be willing to strike on.

It’s unclear whether the district could keep campuses open if the two unions exited simultaneously. During the 2019 teachers’ strike, campuses remained open – providing food and supervision – but teaching was limited and attendance was low.

“We are concerned about the devastating impact that more missed learning would have on students and their families,” said Ana Teresa Dahan, chief executive of local advocacy group GPSN. “And we are also concerned about the impact of a strike on the earnings of workers who are already barely making ends meet, if at all.

“We recognize that this is a critical time for SEIU 99 – trying to lift its members out of poverty,” she added. “We hope that leaders on both sides will have the will and a means to resolve this issue for the students, families and employees who have the most to lose in this situation.”

Union leaders are optimistic about strong support from parents, as they did during the 2019 strike. But some parents are expressing concern.

“I think it’s difficult,” said Maria Sanchez, a parent at Marlton School, which serves students who are deaf or hard of hearing. “As things stand, we are struggling to run out of bus drivers and teachers. This whole situation will only get more difficult.

Unions and the district ‘must set aside differences and act in the best interests of students to quickly reach a fair deal,’ said Christie Pesicka, spokesperson for a parent group that has criticized the teachers’ union. . “I fear more disruption will be the last straw for many families – further deepening an already plummeting enrollment and education crisis.”

The next bargaining session between the district and the teachers’ union is scheduled for Friday. A spokesperson for Local 99 said no bargaining session was scheduled, but both sides remained involved “in the mediation/investigation process facilitated by the State of California.”

“We are currently awaiting dates from the California Public Employment Relations Board to begin the investigation process,” Local 99 spokeswoman Blanca Gallegos said.

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