‘Heroes to Zeroes’: L.A. School Staff Plans Strike Vote
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The dedicated staff members who ensure the smooth functioning of schools in Los Angeles, and who have been at the forefront of preparing them to reopen during the pandemic, are now considering going on strike. To take a step towards authorizing a strike, they organized a rally on Tuesday in front of the district’s main office.
While Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and the school board conducted their meeting inside the downtown building, custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, and classroom assistants gathered outside, arriving from various parts of the district. They waved placards and chanted "no justice, no peace" to amplify their discontent.
SEIU 99 President Conrado Guerrero spoke from the flatbed of a truck, highlighting the efforts made by the staff members to ensure clean air in classrooms through the installation of air filters. He expressed disappointment, stating that they have gone from being considered heroes to feeling undervalued.
Edna Logan, who belongs to the buildings and grounds staff at Manual Arts High School, addressed the crowd and shared that certain restrooms on campus have been closed for two years because the toilets are not functional.
Negotiations between the two sides have been ongoing since 2020, but were disrupted by the pandemic. The 30,000 members of SEIU 99 claim that the district’s offer for the 2020-21 school year includes no raise, a 5% raise for 2021-22, and a 4% increase for 2022-23. Max Arias, the union’s executive director, argues that this proposal is inadequate, as it only amounts to an additional $1,000 per year for most workers. A vote to authorize a strike is scheduled to take place in January.
Arias is pushing for an increase in minimum wages for union members, from $18.50 per hour to $24. The union’s demands also include more eight-hour workdays and paid training for bus drivers and other positions. Arias believes that they have reached an impasse in negotiations.
The district issued a statement emphasizing their commitment to fair compensation for employees, while also ensuring the sustainability of their services in the current economic climate, with a focus on promoting long-term student achievement.
The rally took place after school hours, coinciding with the district board meeting inside the building.
This potential strike is just the latest in a series of conflicts between the district and its labor unions. The United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) previously opposed Superintendent Carvalho’s plan to distribute four learning "acceleration days" throughout the school year, advocating for them to remain as originally scheduled. The district eventually rescheduled these days for winter and spring breaks, despite the fact that fewer students are likely to participate due to their vacation plans. The original schedule would have provided additional work opportunities for SEIU 99 members, which is why they insisted on maintaining it.
Although the teachers union, UTLA, has not yet reached a strike vote, its members are increasing pressure on the district. They recently organized rallies at multiple locations.
In January 2019, the teachers union went on a six-day strike with similar demands, including smaller class sizes, reduced standardized testing, and increased staffing for nurses, librarians, and counselors. They are now pushing for a 20% raise, arguing that the district has over $3 billion in budget reserves to cover the cost.
Despite their own ongoing negotiations, members of the teachers union were present at the rally in support of SEIU 99 members, showing solidarity in their shared struggles.
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