LOS ANGELES – Tens of thousands of workers at the Los Angeles Unified School District walked off the job Tuesday over stalled contract negotiations, and were joined by teachers in a three-day walkout that shut down the nation’s second-largest school system.
The demonstrations were kicked off at a bus depot by Local 99 members of the Service Employees International Union, representing some 30,000 teacher aide, special education aide, bus drivers, janitors, cafeteria workers and other school staff. support.
Workers joined the pickets in a steady pre-dawn rain, demanding better wages and more staff. Some held signs reading “Keep Schools Safe, Respect Us!” The district has more than 500,000 students from Los Angeles and all or parts of 25 other cities and unincorporated county areas.
Leaders of United Teachers Los Angeles, the union that represents 35,000 educators, counselors and other staff, have pledged solidarity with the strikers.
“These are the fellows who are the lowest paid workers in our schools and we cannot stand by as we see them consistently disrespected and abused by this district,” UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz said at a news conference.
Myart-Cruz was joined by U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, a Democrat and U.S. Senate candidate, who said the strikers were earning “poverty wages.”
“People with some of the most important responsibilities in our schools shouldn’t be living in poverty,” Schiff said.
During the pickets, Danielle Murray, a special education aide, told KABC-TV that working conditions are declining every year.
“We are very short-handed,” Murray said. “The custodial staff is a ghost team, so the schools are dirty. They’re doing their best.”
He added: “Some people say, ‘If you want more money, get a better job.’ Well, some of us have college degrees, but we choose to work with a special population that some people don’t want to work with. We want to make a difference for these students.”
Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho accused the union of refusing to negotiate and said he was willing to meet at any time of day or night. He said a “golden opportunity” to make progress was missed on Monday.
“I think this strike could have been avoided. But it can’t be avoided without people really talking to each other,” he said.
Local 99 said Monday evening it was in discussions with state labor regulators over allegations that the district engaged in misconduct that prevented workers from engaging in union-related activities protected by the law.
“We want to be clear that we are not in talks with LAUSD,” the union said in a statement. “We continue to be engaged in the impasse process with the state.”
Those talks would not prevent a strike, the statement said.
During the strike, about 150 of the district’s more than 1,000 schools are expected to remain open with adult supervision but no instruction, to give students somewhere to go. Dozens of libraries and parks, as well as a few grab-and-go spots where students can get lunch, also planned to be open to children to reduce the strain on parents who are now scrambling to find care.
“Schools are more than just educational hubs—they’re a safety net for hundreds of thousands of Los Angeles families,” Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said on Monday. “We will make sure we do everything we can to provide much-needed resources for families in our city.”
The workers, meanwhile, said a strike was the only option they had left.
Teaching assistant Marlee Ostrow, who supports the strike, said she was long overdue for a raise. The 67-year-old was hired nearly 20 years ago at $11.75 an hour, and today she makes about $16. That’s not enough to keep up with inflation and rising home prices, she said, and in the meantime her homework has dropped from two to five grades.
Ostrow blames the district’s low wages for the job vacancies that have piled up in recent years.
“There’s no one even applying because you can make more money starting at Burger King,” he said. “Many people really want to help children and shouldn’t be penalized for wanting it to be their life’s work.”
The union says district support staff earn, on average, about $25,000 a year and many live in poverty due to low pay or limited working hours as they struggle with inflation and high housing costs in Los Angeles County. The union is asking for a 30% raise. Teachers want a 20% pay rise in two years.
Carvalho said the district has offered a pay raise totaling more than 20% over a multi-year period, along with a 3% bonus. In addition, the deal would include a “massive expansion of health benefits,” the superintendent told Fox 11 on Monday.
The strike has widespread support among union members.
SEIU members have been working without contracts since June 2020, while the teachers’ contract expired in June 2022. The unions decided last week not to accept any more extensions to their contracts.
Teachers went on a six-day strike in 2019 over wage and contract issues, but schools remained open.