Los Angeles Unified School District officials said on Wednesday March 8 they are beginning preparations for a possible strike by thousands of cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians, special education assistants and other workers who this week announced plans to cancel their contract amid stalled labor talks on a new pact.
According to the Service Employees International Union Local 99, which represents the more than 30,000 LAUSD workers, the district was notified Tuesday of the pending cancellation of the contract, moving closer to a possible walkout.
The workers in February authorized the union to call a strike if negotiations failed.
“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,” Max Arais, SEIU Local 99 executive director, said in a statement.
District officials issued a statement Wednesday saying they were “disappointed that SEIU is walking away from negotiations with so much on the table.”
“This action takes them one step closer to a strike, which would cause a significant disruption to instruction, and would adversely impact our entire system,” according to the district.
SEIU’s Arais also commented, “We demand that LAUSD stop the unlawful activity, or workers are ready to take stronger action to protest these unfair practices. Canceling our contract is not a decision we make lightly. But it’s clear that LAUSD does not respect or value the work of essential workers in our schools.”
District officials said Superintendent Alberto Carvalho made the union “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.
“Ultimately, we must do what is in the best interest of our students as well as our workforce, which includes exercising fiscal responsibility,” according to a district statement. “Our general fund is not a flexible budget reserve — the district cannot go bankrupt. We need to be united in our efforts to provide every child with access to a high-quality public education that will prepare them for success in school and life.”
Union officials have said the affected workers earn an average salary of $25,000 a year and 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.