LAUSD shuts down schools on first day of union strike

March 21, 2023

A previous version of this article has been updated to clarify that only SEIU Local 99 members are demanding a 30% wage increase and that schools will be closed through Thursday and that Thursday is March 23, not March 24. 

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 99 began their strike for higher wages in the rain starting today. The strike has led to the closure of all Los Angeles Unified School District campuses until March 23. 

“The district doesn’t want to comply with us,” said special assistant Angelina Nabarretes, who has been working with LAUSD for four years and currently works at Valerio Street Elementary School. “They think that we don’t need it, that it’s not important. No. We’re doing the work. We need it.”

Starting on March 21, LAUSD, the nation’s second-largest school district, will be closed to students through March 23. This is due to a lack of supervision on campus, as SEIU Local 99 members take to the streets to demand a 30% wage increase over the course of four years, medical insurance and bonus pay for low-income LAUSD SEIU Local 99 workers. SEIU alleges that LAUSD had also intimidated and at times obstructed workers from voting on the authorization of a strike. 

UTLA went on a 6-day strike once before in 2019, also demanding wage increases, class size reductions and other requests. As UTLA teachers march with SEIU Local 99 members during this strike, they continue to demand higher wages in addition to SEIU Local 99’s requested 30% wage increase.  

“It’s unfortunate but necessary at the moment,” said LAUSD Information Technology (IT) Department worker Rafael Cordova, who has been working as a support technician for the past five years.

During a press conference on March 20, Carvalho announced that LAUSD’s last proposal to the union was a 22% wage increase as well as a 3% cash in-hand increase. Additionally, he called the strike movement baseless, unlawful and built on allegations that take time to prove. SEIU Local 99 rejected this statement and the proposal put out by the district, reaffirming their right to strike. 

SEIU Local 99 represents 30,000 custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and other support staff. With them, UTLA, which represents 35,000 teachers, has refused to cross the picket line and stands in solidarity with the workers. 

“We’re also not seeing the district negotiate in good favor with the union,” UTLA member Monica Adams said, who has worked at Robert Fulton College Preparatory School for three years.” And (the strike is) a necessary step to show (the district) that we can’t run the schools without our sister union and we as teachers stand behind them, one hundred percent.”

The shut-down of LAUSD means that around 420,000 students will be out of school until they return on Friday. During this time, parents are making an effort to find child-care options if no one is available to stay home with them due to work. Because of this, LAUSD has provided other locations for parents to drop off their children, with an online map highlighting where they can go to be supervised. The supervision spots would be open for an entire school day but they are not intended to replace education.

“We know it’s tough for parents,” UTLA member Matt Corrigan said, who’s been working at Lemay Elementary for eight years. “We know it’s tough for students. It’s tough for us as well, but we’re making a sacrifice now that will hopefully let us achieve more soon. It’s not just about the salary.” 

Students who rely on the district’s meals for nutrition have been affected by the shutdown as well. LAUSD serves 130 million meals a year, often to children from low-income households. During this strike, the district is partnering with the City of Los Angeles in order to continue feeding children who don’t have a steady food supply during the striking period. The free meals served at grab-and-go locations throughout the city can be accessible through an online map provided by LAUSD.

“When more than 75% of the kids in our community live at or below the poverty levels, meals are a critical service schools provide,” Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho said during a statement posted on his Instagram.

However, many SEIU members make up the same percentage of people whose children are low-income, considering their jobs earn them a median amount of 25,000 every year. Among LAUSD, they are some of the lowest-paid workers in the district. 

“It’s the poverty wages that our custodians, cafeteria workers, all of the people that take care of our students outside and inside the classroom,” UTLA member Alex Vargas Warner said, who has worked as a teacher for Robert Fulton College Preparatory School’s Magnet program for the past nine years. “Yet they cannot pay their bills. And so we want respect for them, and respect means a living wage, at least minimum wage.”

Gabrielle Lashley contributed to this story.

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