Los Angeles, CA

Big Win for LA Schools: 30,000 Workers End Strike With Tentative Deal

Joseph Godwin

The Los Angeles Unified School District employees that participated in the walkout for three days included teachers, gardeners, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and special education aides.

Following a three-day strike that began earlier this week, which resulted in the closure of hundreds of schools and the postponement of classes for 422,000 students, the union that represents 30,000 education workers reached a tentative agreement with the Los Angeles Unified School District on Friday.

The Service Employees International Union Local 99, which represents support employees in the system, stated that Los Angeles Unified, the second-largest school district in the country, has met its primary requests, including a 30 percent salary rise. Los Angeles Unified is the second-largest school district in the nation. The agreement is still up for a vote by the entire union membership.

Together with Max Arias, the executive director of Local 99, and Alberto Carvalho, the district superintendent, Mayor Karen Bass made the announcement of the agreement on Friday at City Hall.

Mayor Bass stated, “I am grateful that we were able to find an agreement to move forward today. I am hopeful that this is the beginning of a new relationship that will lead to a stronger L.A.U.S.D. and a better future for its workers and students in the years ahead.”

The union had argued throughout the strike that many of its members struggled to make ends meet in pricey Southern California on little more than the minimum wage.

The Los Angeles teachers' union, whose 35,000 members were requested to strike in support of Local 99, which represents bus drivers, cafeteria employees, and special education aides and is now bargaining its contract, joined the group of workers which include gardeners, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers. In total, that meant that the work stoppage affected up to 65,000 school personnel.

The walkout, which started on Tuesday and lasted three days, ended when Local 99 agreed to a provisional deal on Friday morning.

Since July 1, 2020, members of Local 99 have been working without a contract. According to the school system, the new agreement grants them several retroactive salary rises and lasts until June 30, 2024.

Employees working as of June 30, 2021, will get a one-time $1,000 incentive in addition to the minimum salary of $22.52 per hour. Additionally, a $3 million fund will be established for union members' academic and professional advancement.

Mr. Arias claimed that after ratification, the pay of his members will rise by 15%. Their pay would increase by around 30% on January 1 compared to the start of the strike on Tuesday.

“This has the potential for transformational change. We want this to be a spark to rethink our schools, our values around education. When 65,000 education workers are telling the parents that we need to do this to improve the conditions, that’s powerful,” In a Friday night interview, he stated.

The staff members of the S.E.I.U. have contended that although they make up approximately 40 percent of the school district's workforce, they contribute less than 10 percent of the district's overall budget. When one of the district's numerous unions successfully negotiates favorable conditions, the other unions often demand that they be included as well.

This means that the deal could offer a greater financial strain for the district. In contract discussions, it is commonly anticipated that teachers, who account for the majority of the district payroll, will take the SEIU agreement into account.

The educators made it clear that they were standing in support of the SEIU workers by not crossing the picket lines that were set up. Since he took office in December, Mayor Bass is credited with helping to broker the deal, which was credited by both the school district and the union.

“She was absolutely magnificent in getting everybody to talk to each other repeatedly, even when things began going awry,” stated Jackie Goldberg, the president of the school board. She noted that the presence of a mediator during the negotiations was another factor that contributed to their success.

In an interview that took place on Friday evening, Mayor Bass stated that she had been informally communicating with the district and union leaders "for a couple of weeks" prior to the beginning of the strike, but that they had kept it a secret.

Ms. Bass, a former member of Congress, has a long-standing reputation for her ability to reconcile opposing viewpoints through discreet, behind-the-scenes interactions. This is especially true among her Democratic colleagues. She was a natural go-between even though mayors in Los Angeles have little influence over the schools beyond the bully pulpit. She was elected with the support of S.E.I.U., which helped her win the election.

She stated that she made the offer of a neutral meeting room at Los Angeles City Hall to all parties after it became apparent that face-to-face conversations were not going to be adequate to prevent the strike.

She stated that a component of her job was to assist the union in better comprehending the superintendent, who has spent most of his career in Florida. And a significant component of her job entailed assisting the superintendent and the district in better comprehending the predicament of the staff members.

“We’re talking about the lowest-wage workers in the school district. Many of them had incomes so low that they were housing insecure. A number of them were in and out of homelessness,” she stated.

She stated that this was both a shock to her and a finding that inspired her to take action. She remarked, "I didn't know," before adding that the strike had been "an education" for a significant portion of the city.

“When you think of low-wage workers, you don’t think of school employees. You think, maybe, of fast food workers. But you don’t think of individuals who take care of special needs kids,” she stated.

This week, the majority of the assistance staff reported that their jobs were only part-time, necessitating the search for second or third employment in order to cover their expenses. At the press conference, Mr. Carvalho stated that the draft agreement will guarantee part-time workers who put in four or more hours a day with health benefits, including coverage for their family.

“I have no doubt that this contract will be seen as a precedent-setting, historic contract that elevates the dignity, the humanity of our workforce, respects the needs of our students, but also guarantees the fiscal viability of our district for years to come. Those were indispensable priorities for all of us,” Mr. Carvalho stated.

There is nothing that even comes close to what we just accomplished, according to Hugo Montelongo, a special education assistant at a high school in the San Fernando Valley. The 52-year-old Mr. Montelongo claimed to have worked for the district for more than 20 years and said he was excited about dealing with pupils who were concentrating on life skills.

The labor agreement, he claimed, was an eagerly anticipated indication that individuals like him are respected. “We do it with love, but you can’t get by on love. It feels like they’re finally respecting what we do, accepting that what we do is worth more,” he stated.

He would be able to work 35 hours a week as opposed to 30, which, according to Mr. Montelongo, will help him get through the unpaid summer months. His gas, insurance, and energy payments have all increased significantly during the past year. “Our wages weren’t keeping up with inflation. In Los Angeles the cost of living is ridiculous,” he let out.

Belen Perez, 24, arrived at her job on Friday at a Koreatown elementary school fatigued after three days of protesting. Ms. Perez, a teacher's assistant, claimed that her pay as a teacher's assistant was lower than that of a CVS Pharmacy cashier.

While she studied to become a speech-language pathologist, she realized that she loved attempting to engage students in the classroom and that the poor compensation was worth the experience. Ms. Perez had no misgivings about joining the picket lines as the news of the labor agreement exploded in her group chat late on Friday afternoon. It was reassuring to see that this strike did result in something.


Corina Knoll, Adeel Hassan, and Shawn Hubler, The New York Times, (2023 March 25th). "Los Angeles Schools and 30,000 Workers Reach Tentative Deal After Strike": The three-day walkout included Los Angeles Unified School District teachers, gardeners, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and special education assistants.


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