Potential strike: More disruptive to LAUSD kids than COVID?

Written by Amy Ta and Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Angie Perrin

SEIU Local 99 represents bus drivers, janitors, cafeteria workers, and other non-teaching LAUSD staff. They could be close to a three-day strike. Photo by Shutterstock.

SEIU Local 99 is the union representing non-teaching LAUSD staff like bus drivers, janitors, cafeteria workers, special education assistants, teacher aides and campus aides — and they could be on the verge of a three-day strike. In solidarity, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), the teacher’s union, will strike with them. In response, LAUSD has announced it would close its campuses, affecting more than 400,000 students across Southern California. The planned strike would be the largest and longest labor-related disruption since the six-day teachers’ strike of 2019.

This is a big test for the district's new superintendent Alberto Carvalho, and it comes as LAUSD struggles to help students recover from learning loss during the pandemic.

The strike is unusual, says LA Times Education Reporter Howard Blume, because it’s a direct protest against alleged unlawful labor practices by LA Unified, and it won’t settle contract bargaining issues after the three days. Local 99 says the school district has interfered with their legal rights to talk about labor issues and meet with union members.

The union represents workers who comprise the “nuts and bolts of a school,” he says, and it’s unclear how a campus could operate without them. Their average annual incomes are $25,000-30,000, and they’re asking for a 30% salary increase.

In response, the district is offering a 15% raise over three years, a 4% bonus this year as an incentive to stay on the job, plus a 5% retention bonus for next year. The union argues, however, that the district can afford more and workers need more.

“The union is saying … you have a largely part-time, low-wage workforce that can't afford to pay their bills and live in this high-cost region. From their perspective, this is a fight to lift essential, hardworking workers who look after the needs of students out of poverty, or at least somewhat out of poverty.”

But Blume points out, “There's also, of course, the question of what can the district afford and remain solvent? And I don't actually know the answer to that question. That's partly why they have a fact-finding process that the union and the district are going through at the moment to try to reach some agreement on what the district can afford.”

If the strike takes place, Blume says it will be a challenging time for educational staff and families. That includes workers who will be sacrificing three days of pay.

“The district is trying to set up some food distribution mechanism. Packets are being prepared to send home with students. ... If teachers are on strike, they're going to be under no obligation to grade this work or to monitor it, or theoretically even to hand it out.”

He adds, “The district is scrambling frantically at this moment to come up with viable solutions. But yes, it is disruptive. Even during the pandemic, there was remote learning. That wasn't as good as in-person learning by a long shot, but there was something going on. So this is the first time instruction will really not be happening, in any form really, since the six-day teachers' strike of January 2019.”