Roughly half a million students in California could be staying home from school next week if employees of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest public school system, carry out a planned three-day strike that would start Tuesday.
Saying that negotiations with the district had stalled, the union that represents 30,000 cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians, and other school employees announced that the workers intended to walk off the job next week. And the teachers’ union, which represents another roughly 30,000 LAUSD employees, said its members, in solidarity, would not cross the picket line.
That means that more than 1,000 Los Angeles Unified schools may have to close from Tuesday through Thursday, according to the district superintendent, Alberto Carvalho.
SEIU Local 99, the union that represents the employees who are planning to strike, is seeking a 30 percent raise and other increases in compensation. Its members “know a strike will be a sacrifice, but the school district has pushed workers to take this action,” Max Arias, the executive director of the union’s Local 99, said in a statement.
The district is offering a 5 percent wage increase for the current school year and another 5 percent raise for the next, as well as one-time bonuses and additional raises for certain positions, officials said this week.
Carvalho called that a “historic offer” and said that the district was working to reach a deal with union officials that would avert a strike. But in a sign that the walkout was becoming more likely, he urged parents to begin making arrangements with their employers and child care providers to prepare for schools to be closed. The contract dispute comes at a time when schoolchildren are only beginning to recover from educational setbacks they suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I want to personally apologize to our families and our students,” Carvalho wrote on Twitter this week. “You deserve better. Know that we are doing everything possible to avoid a strike.”
Public support for organized labor is at a 50-year high in the United States, and unions have made major inroads recently at high-profile corporations such as Amazon and Starbucks. Strikes, especially by teachers and education workers, have become increasingly common over the past six years, a reflection of widespread frustration with low wages, poor working conditions, and growing income inequality, according to Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center.
“There’s tremendous discontent among working people that this isn’t working for them,” Wong said. “The rise in worker organizing and the rise in worker strikes is absolutely a sign of the times.”
More American workers were on strike in 2018 than in any of the previous 30 years, according to Jane McAlevey, a senior policy fellow with the UC Berkeley Labor Center. The pandemic temporarily paused the trend toward more strikes, but workers’ anger continued to rise, she said, as they dealt with the dangerous work environments and staffing problems that the pandemic caused.
“I think all of this is boiling over now,” McAlevey said.
Teachers went on strike in Oakland last year to protest school closures, and classes were canceled for more than a week in Sacramento during a teachers’ strike there last spring.
And in November, roughly 48,000 academic workers at University of California campuses across the state went on strike in what was the largest and longest university-based labor action in US history. It ended nearly six weeks later with large pay increases for the workers — an outcome that is likely to keep inspiring others to walk out, Wong said: “There’s nothing that encourages workers to take action more than success.”
In 2019, when the teachers’ union in LA Unified organized a six-day strike, school campuses stayed open but attendance was low. Eric Garcetti, who was mayor of Los Angeles at the time, stepped in to help broker a deal to end the walkout.
That strike was a watershed, because of the way the public rallied around the teachers, Wong said. He said the success of that strike was the reason the teachers union decided this week to stand in solidarity with the district’s blue-collar workers, something he called “extraordinary.”