• LAUSD is the second-largest school district in the country
  • The strike will lead to a total shut down of all LAUSD campuses for three days
  • The unions are demanding salary hikes and improve infrastructure

Thousands of Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) workers are expected to go on a three-day strike, starting Tuesday (March 21) to Thursday (March 23) after one of the unions representing them voted to walk off the job due to pay and contract issues and the other union announced solidarity with the decision.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 99, which represents about 30,000 LAUSD workers, announced the strike at a March 15 rally. United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), which represents 35,000 teachers, bus drivers, custodians and cafeteria workers, also extended support to their colleagues. "Educators will be joining our union siblings on the picket lines," UTLA said in a tweet, adding "LA won't get away with underfunding our schools."

SEUI members have been working on extended contracts which came into effect in June 2020. However, after their efforts to renew their contracts went in vain earlier this month, UTLA and SEUI decided to move ahead with the strike.

LAUSD issued a statement Sunday, noting that it is prepared for school closures, but expressed hope that they can arrive at a consensus with the unions before the strike, which will result in a total shutdown of all school campuses for three days.

LAUSD is the second-largest school district in the country, after New York City, and serves over 600,000 students from kindergarten to 12th grade in over 1,000 schools in LA and 25 other cities and unincorporated county areas.

Alberto M. Carvalho, LAUSD Superintendent, emailed parents last week and said classes will not be held virtually in the wake of the strike. He further blamed the union for its non-negotiating attitude. "We would simply have no way of ensuring a safe and secure environment where teaching can take place," Carvalho noted.

A similar situation impacted LAUSD in 2019 when teachers waged a six-day strike, but classes were conducted per usual during that time.

Demands of unions

SEIU Local 99 is asking for several increased benefits for LAUSD school workers, NBC4 reported. The average school worker in the district earns $25,000 annually. SEIU asked for at least a 30% raise in wages. Detail salary descriptions for 2022-2023 for teachers can be found here.

The second agenda on their list pertains to staff shortages. As of March 15, there are over 180 open teaching vacancies within the district. In August last year, Carvalho had outlined staffing shortages as one of their key hurdles, including classroom teachers. "At this point, we are below 200 open positions," Carvalho had reportedly said during a presentation to the school administrators. "We have more than 500 credentialed individuals ready to go into the classrooms to fill any existing gaps."

According to its website, Los Angeles Unified has offered a $5,000 stipend, split into three payments, for newly hired credentialed teachers who commit to work in high-needs schools for at least three years. In addition to the stipend, they offered to pay for 20 hours of professional development annually, designed especially for teachers working at high-needs schools.

The unions have also demanded increased work hours and health care benefits for SEIU workers who dispense their services to the district part-time and get paid minimum wage, forcing them to work more jobs for rent and food assistance.

Also on their list of demands is improved infrastructure at schools. According to Ingrid Fey, a social studies teacher with the LAUSD for 15 years, several schools are crumbling, some in the literal sense with tiles falling on students' heads, as told to Los Angeles Times.

Fey said student and staff bathrooms being out of order is a recurring issue at the schools, and so is the lack of respect. "Not only does LAUSD need to invest in our students, but we also need to invest in teachers and the school staff. I would say the first step is one simple word: respect," Fey told the outlet.

The union's announcement came after LAUSD filed a legal challenge with the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) alleging that SEIU's protest was illegal and seeking an injunction relief to halt it. At the same time, they offered a revised contract offer to the union.

"Members of our bargaining team had not even had time to review it or consult with other members before the district shared it publicly with the media. We will not negotiate publicly," the union said in response to the legal challenge, adding, "LAUSD does not seem to be acting in good faith."

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LAUSD school workers and teachers will be on strike starting March 21 to 23 AFP / Philippe LOPEZ