Union officials representing service workers for the Los Angeles Unified School District on Sunday, March 19, announced planned picket lines as hopes fade for a last-minute deal to avoid a potentially crippling strike that would shut down campuses for three days starting Tuesday.
Meanwhile, a group of district employees, parents and students took to the streets outside the district headquarters Saturday to emphasize their concerns about the size of classes and a “living wage” for the non teaching staffers who are expected to be on the picket lines starting this week.
Officials for the Service Employees International Local 99 union —representing roughly 30,000 cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians, special education assistants and other workers — said Saturday they were “moving forward with plans to strike” Tuesday through Thursday to “protest the school district’s unfair practices.”
The union’s announcement came one day after the district filed a legal challenge with the state Public Employment Relations Board seeking an injunction that would halt the strike, alleging that it is illegal. The challenge questions the legality of the labor action and cites the timing, which would occur before the typical bargaining procedure has been completed.
It is unclear if or when the board will consider the request.
“Yesterday, even as the school district filed charges, they presented SEIU Local 99 with an updated contract offer,” the union said Saturday. “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.
“LAUSD does not seem to be acting in good faith.”
Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said LAUSD officials were prepared to talk, and even potentially sweeten their most recent compensation and benefits offer, but union officials said they are waiting for a state mediator to schedule new talks.
Meanwhile, the district has scheduled a series of 90 minute Zoom webinars on Sunday and Monday for students and their families to learn more about what is happening.
Information on the scheduled sessions is available at https://twitter.com/LASchools.
The union announced the following events planned for next week:
— 4:30 a.m. picket lines at Van Nuys Bus Yard, 16200 Roscoe Blvd.
— 7 a.m. news conference at Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, 701 S. Catalina St., Los Angeles;
— 1 p.m. rally at LAUSD Headquarters, 333 South Beaudry Ave., Los Angeles.
— 4:30 a.m. picket lines at Gardena Bus Yard, 18421 S. Hoover St.;
— 7 a.m. news conference and picketing at Polytechnic High School, 12431 Roscoe Blvd., Sun Valley;
— 11 a.m. rally at LAUSD Local District Office, 2151 N. Soto St., Los Angeles.
— 4:30 a.m. picket lines at BD Bus Yard 774 E. 17th St., Los Angeles;
— 7 a.m. news conference and picket lines at Banneker Career Transition Center, 14024 San Pedro St., Los Angeles;
— 1 p.m. rally at location to be determined.
Carvalho said the union is “simply refusing to negotiate,” calling it “deeply surprising and disappointing that there is an unwillingness to do so.”
The district was scheduled to engage in labor talks Friday — not with the SEIU but with United Teachers Los Angeles, the powerful teachers’ union, which has said its 30,000-plus members will honor an SEIU picket line. UTLA is pushing for a 20% raise for its workers. SEIU is seeking roughly 30%, saying many of its workers are paid poverty wages of about $25,000 per year.
The planned three-day walkout would be the first major labor disruption for the district since UTLA teachers went on strike for six days in 2019. That dispute ended thanks in part to intervention by then-Mayor Eric Garcetti, who helped spur labor talks at City Hall and broker a deal between the district and union.
Zach Seidl, a spokesman for Mayor Karen Bass, said Friday that Bass is “closely monitoring the situation and is engaged with all parties involved.”
District officials said last week that Carvalho had made the SEIU Local 99 “one of the strongest offers ever proposed by a Los Angeles Unified superintendent.”
According to the district, the offer included a 5% wage increase retroactive to July 2021, another 5% increase retroactive to July 2022 and another 5% increase effective July 2023, along with a 4% bonus in 2022-23 and a 5% bonus in 2023-24.
On Wednesday, Carvalho said at a news conference “that 15% plus 10% does not represent the end of the road, we have more resources and have indicated that to the union.”
The union announced Wednesday at a rally at Grand Park that its strike will begin Tuesday. SEIU-represented workers voted in February to authorize the union to call a strike if negotiations failed.
Carvalho sent a message to district parents and staff Monday saying that a walkout by more than 60,000 workers would likely mean a closure of all schools in the district.
“We would simply have no way of ensuring a safe and secure environment where teaching can take place,” Carvalho said. “We will give you as much advance notice as possible, but we encourage you to begin discussions with your employer, child care providers and others now.”
Carvalho on Wednesday lamented the possibility of a strike that could shutter schools — on the heels of extended campus closures that impacted student learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What are the consequences? The consequences are once again learning loss, deprivation of safety and security that schools provide to our kids, deprivation of food and nutrition that many of our kids depend on,” Carvalho said. “I know that we focus our attention on the needs of the workforce. I need to focus my attention also primarily on the needs of our kids.”
The unions have repeatedly said the district is sitting on a projected $4.9 billion reserve fund for 2022-23 that should be invested in workers and efforts to improve education through reduced class sizes and full staffing of all campuses.
“Workers are fed-up with living on poverty wages — and having their jobs threatened for demanding equitable pay. Workers are fed-up with the short staffing at LAUSD — and being harassed for speaking up,” SEIU99 Executive Director Max Arais said in a statement last week.
Carvalho has disputed that $4.9 billion figure, telling ABC7 Thursday that an auditor who reviewed the district’s books concluded such a reserve fund is a “falsehood.”
The superintendent said he remains hopeful a strike can be avoided, but if it happens, the district plans to provide food-distribution centers for students and provide educational packets students can work on at home during the walkout.
The district on Friday announced the creation of a website at achieve.lausd.net/schoolupdates which will “provide resources for families during the work stoppage period” from Tuesday through Thursday. According to the district, the site has information on “learning activities, Grab & Go food locations, tutoring services, enrichment activities and cultural opportunities across Los Angeles and Los Angeles County park locations that will provide free youth programs.”
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SEIU workers have been working without a contract since June 2020.
The union declared an impasse in negotiations in December, leading to the appointment of a state mediator.
In addition to salary demands, union officials have also alleged staffing shortages caused by an “over-reliance on a low-wage, part-time workforce.” The union alleged shortages including:
— insufficient teacher assistants, special education assistants and other instructional support to address learning loss and achievement gaps;
— substandard cleaning and disinfecting at school campuses because of a lack of custodial staff;
— jeopardized campus safety due to campus aides and playground supervisors being overburdened, and,
— limited enrichment, after-school and parental engagement programs due to reduced work hours and lack of health care benefits for after-school workers and community representatives.