LA School Workers Go on Strike Reported WSJ Renew Edition

LA School Workers Go on Strike Reported WSJ Renew Edition wsjrenewal

“We are on strike because we’ve had enough,” said Conrado Guerrero to WSJ Renew Edition, president of Local 99 of the Service Employees International Union, on Tuesday morning in the pouring rain outside Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, as workers picketed on the sidewalk and passing cars honked horns in support. “Enough of the disrespect. We refuse to be invisible.”

Workers and union leaders said the strike is about gaining respect for an often overlooked workforce in Los Angeles schools: staff who keep trash cans from overflowing, drive students across town to school and help educate and keep safe some of the highest-needs students.

Nearly all the support staff in the Los Angeles Unified School District earn below $45,000 a year. Full-time food-service workers earn an average of $25,000, special-education workers earn $36,700, and building and grounds staff earn an average of $39,240, according to the union, as can be seen.

U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff joined union leaders Tuesday to urge the district to pay a livable wage to workers, pointing to the high cost of living in the city, where rent on a one-bedroom apartment can cost $1,700 or more. “We should be able to do better than this in Los Angeles,” he said to WSJ Renew Edition.

The union is seeking 30% raises across the board, plus $2 an hour more for the lowest-paid workers. The latest district offer includes a 23% salary increase, a 3% bonus, and improved healthcare benefits.

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“We understand the frustration, a frustration that has been brewing not just for a couple of years but probably for decades,” LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said Monday night while announcing that the district will be closed for the duration of the strike, which is scheduled to last through Thursday.

The union and district officials have both said they are open to talking, as each side blames the other for failing to reach a deal.

Technically, this week’s strike isn’t about the impasse in contract talks. Instead, it is a so-called unfair labor practice strike, called over alleged labor law violations the staff union says the district has committed. The union filed over a dozen grievances, accusing the district of violations ranging from managers locking cafeteria doors to prevent workers from voting on a strike to raising the price of vending-machine snacks in staff lounges.

Union leaders have said the strike could be the first of many if the district doesn’t meet demands.

Cecily Myart-Cruz, the president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said Tuesday from the picket lines that her union couldn’t stand by idly while the support staff demanded better pay. “We stand in solidarity with them,” she said. A UTLA strike in 2019 closed schools for six days.

LAUSD Unsuccessfully Tried to Block The Strike on Legal Grounds

Arguing the union is illegally striking over stalled contract negotiations. The strike, the district argued in a Friday legal filing, “is nothing more than an unlawful pressure tactic.”

Jane McAlevey, a senior policy fellow with the University of California, Berkeley Labor Center, said something as seemingly small as a snack price increase could be meaningful to a low-wage worker who might interpret it as “someone sending us a message, we’ll make your life harder as you’re making demands for fairness.”

Unlike the more typical economic strikes, which are open-ended and leave both workers and families not knowing how long they will last, this week’s strike is scheduled to take place Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

Some parents expressed frustration this week over the closure of schools, which left many scrambling for child care.

“The children are the ones that are hurt by all of it,” said Danna Rosenthal, a parent of an elementary school student in the district. Ms. Rosenthal said she bristled at union leaders chanting about “shutting it down” at a rally last week. “It’s not like we’re talking about a car factory, this is an education you’re shutting down.”

The Shutdown

School board members heard Tuesday morning from 10 mothers from Our Voice, a group of Latino parents, speaking out against the strike at the board’s meeting. Evelyn Aleman, the group’s leader, said many families in the district are immigrants, some undocumented, who have to stay home with their children and can’t work when schools are shut down.

With tears in her eyes, parent Rocio Elorza urged the union and district leaders to reach a deal, saying the children “are not a currency.”

Special-education assistant Denia Serrano said to WSJ Renew Edition, she, like many of her colleagues, is a parent of an LAUSD student and understands the concerns. But she said the support staff needs higher pay and more respect from parents, administrators, and teachers.

“We are dismissed,” Ms. Serrano said. “Now they’re painting us as stubborn.” Ms. Serrano said she makes $25.75 an hour during a nine-month contract, which doesn’t give her enough to build savings. She worries about how she will send her son, now in seventh grade, to college.

During the shutdown, families can pick up food at locations around the district, which spans 720 square miles. The district has also distributed educational packets that won’t count for grades but can keep children occupied, and it is joining with community groups to provide limited child care. The district can watch 12,000 students over 154 campuses, officials said Monday, with sites expected to fill up quickly.

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The shutdown is the first labor test for Mr. Carvalho, who joined the Los Angeles district just over a year ago from Miami.

“We will get through this,” Mr. Carvalho said Monday night. “And at some point, we will agree to a contract. But not without a necessary dialogue.”

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