Los Angeles schools close as teachers and staff begin 3-day strike

Los Angeles public school teachers continue to deal with rainy weather as their strike enters its third day in Gardena, California, U.S., on January 16, 2019. Photo by Mike Blake/REUTERS

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Tens of thousands of Los Angeles Unified School District workers walked off the job Tuesday over deadlocked contract negotiations, joining teachers in a three-day walkout that shut down the second-largest school system. from the country. .

Demonstrations began at a bus yard by members of Service Employees International Union Local 99, which represents some 30,000 teacher aides, special education aides, bus drivers, janitors, cafeteria workers and other staff. support.

Workers joined the pickets in a steady rain before dawn, demanding better wages and more staff. Some had signs saying “We keep schools safe, please respect us!” The district has more than 500,000 students from Los Angeles and all or parts of 25 other cities and unincorporated areas of the county. Nearly three quarters are Latino.

Mother Danielle Peters met with union members outside Hancock Park Elementary School, along with her children, Jack, 10, and Ella, 7. She said it’s wrong for school workers to earn as little as $15 an hour, a salary that Peters remembers earning for babysitting.

“They are underappreciated, they are underpaid and they have the most important job in the world,” he said of the support staff. “We care about them, and this is the least we can do.”

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Leaders of United Teachers Los Angeles, the union that represents 35,000 educators, counselors and other staff, pledged solidarity with the strikers.

“These are the coworkers who are the lowest paid workers in our schools and we cannot sit idly by as we constantly see them disrespected and mistreated by this district,” UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz said at a conference. press.

Myart-Cruz was joined by US Representative Adam Schiff, a Democrat and US Senate candidate, who said the strikers were earning “poor wages.”

“The people with some of the most important responsibilities in our schools should not have to live in poverty,” Schiff said.

Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho accused the union of refusing to bargain and said he was willing to meet at any time of the day or night. He said a “golden opportunity” to move forward was missed on Monday.

“I think this strike could have been avoided. But it can’t be avoided without people talking to each other,” he said.

Local 99 said Monday night it was in talks with state labor regulators about allegations that the district engaged in misconduct that has impeded workers’ rights to engage in legally protected union-related activities.

“We want to make it clear that we are not in negotiations with LAUSD,” the union said in a statement. “We remain engaged in the stalemate 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, so students have somewhere to go. Dozens of libraries and parks, plus some “grab and go” places for students to get lunches, also planned to be open to children to take the pressure off parents now struggling to find care.

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“Schools are much more than centers of education – they are a safety net for hundreds of thousands of Los Angeles families,” Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said in a statement Monday. “We will make sure we do everything we can to provide the resources that families in our city need.”

Meanwhile, the workers said that striking was the only option left to them.

Instructional assistant Marlee Ostrow, who supports the strike, said she’s long overdue for a raise. The 67-year-old was hired nearly two decades 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 role has expanded from two classrooms to five.

Ostrow blames the district’s low wages for the job openings that have accumulated in recent years.

“There’s not even anyone applying because you can make more money starting at Burger King,” he said. “A lot of people really want to help kids, and they shouldn’t be penalized for wanting to make that 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 wages or limited work hours as they battle inflation and the high cost of housing in Los Angeles County. The union is asking for a 30 percent raise. Teachers want a 20 percent pay raise in two years.

Carvalho said the district has offered a salary increase of more than 20 percent over a period of several years, along with a 3 percent bonus. In addition, the agreement would include a “massive expansion of health care benefits,” the superintendent told Fox 11 on Monday.

The strike has broad support among union members.

SEIU members have been working without a contract since June 2020, while the teachers’ contracts expired in June 2022. The unions decided last week to stop accepting extensions to their contracts.

Teachers went on a six-day strike in 2019 over salary and contract issues, but schools remained open.

Associated Press writers John Antczak in Los Angeles and Collin Binkley in Washington contributed to this report.