DemDaily: On Strike!

March 21, 2023

Nearly 65,000 school service workers and teachers in the nation's second-largest school district went on strike this morning, impacting over 1,000 schools and more than 420,000 students in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).

The three-day walkout began at 4:30am Tuesday morning and is scheduled to continue through Thursday, March 23.

LA Unified Superintendent Alberto Carvalho announced that school would be canceled after last-minute negotiations failed.

Led by Service Employees International Union Local 99, the strike follows nearly a year of negotiations with LAUSD. The roughly 30,000 members of Local 99 include custodians, bus drivers, teacher's aides, security aides, special education assistants, and food-service workers.

In solidarity, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA)—a union representing about 35,000 teachers, nurses, therapists, counselors, and librarians—joined the strike. UTLA, which is affiliated with both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, is also bargaining with LA Unified in a separate dispute over wages.

“Families have been sacrificing for far too long on poverty wages. Students have been sacrificing for too long in school environments that are not clean, safe or supportive for all. Too many workers have been subjected to harassment simply for demanding change. Enough is Enough!” -- SEIU Local 99 Executive Director Max Arias

Contract negotiations between the union and LAUSD began in April 2022 but reached an impasse in December, leading to the appointment of a designated arbiter from the California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB).

In February 2023, Local 99 members overwhelmingly voted to authorize a limited strike to protest unfair negotiating tactics by the school district, rather than call a general walkout over pay and work conditions. Legally, this specific type of strike comes with protections for workers who walk out but must have a time limit and cannot be open-ended.

Last Friday LAUSD filed an injunction request with PERB to halt the move, claiming the planned three-day walkout was actually—and unlawfully—centered on wages and not negotiations, but the Board rejected the appeal, allowing the strike to proceed.

Local 99 has alleged to state labor regulators that the district engaged in misconduct which has impeded the rights of workers to engage in legally protected union-related activities.

In the ongoing negotiations, the union is seeking “equitable wage increases, more full-time work, respectful treatment, and increased staffing levels for improved student services.” The union, which says many of its predominantly part-time workers are earning “poverty wages” of $25,000 per year, has been pushing for a 30% pay raise for all of its members, as well as a $2/hour increase for its lowest-paid workers.

On Monday, Carvalho announced LAUSD's counterproposal to the union's demands, which included a 23% raise for members spread over a multiyear period, a 3% bonus, and a “massive expansion of healthcare benefits."

Union officials, however, said the announcement was shared with the media before their bargaining team had time to review the proposal, adding, “We will not negotiate publicly. LAUSD does not seem to be acting in good faith.” The officials said they are waiting for a state mediator to schedule new talks.

The strike comes at a time when the labor movement is experiencing a nationwide resurgence as workers are organizing and striking at levels not seen for decades. Public support for unions is at a 50-year high in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which laid bare the abuse of front-line and essential workers such as teachers—frustrated with low wages, poor working conditions, and growing income inequality.

Despite pledged support from President Joe Biden, touted as the “most pro-union president in history,” labor rights are being challenged legally at every turn.

In January, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Glacier Northwest v. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a case that threatens the protections under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of unions that choose to strike against their employers. A ruling on Glacier is not expected before the close of the High Court's term this summer.

DemDaily: The Right to Strike 1/12/23
DemDaily: Biden's New Labor Secretary 3/2/23
DemDaily: Strike Derailed 12/2/22
DemDaily: A New Era at The AFL-CIO 7/5/22

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: LATimes, New York Times, CNN, Deadline. WWMT, CNN

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