Wednesday afternoon, thousands of Los Angeles Unified School District unionized employees gathered at a rally in Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles, demanding better wages and respect for their work.
The workers, represented by Service Employees International Union Local 99, are comprised of bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, special education assistants and other essential school workers. Members of the United Teachers Los Angeles union showed their solidarity by also gathering at the rally.
The SEIU and the employees they represent are working to negotiate new labor agreements, including higher pay, more staffing and more hours for part-time workers.
"I do everything from changing diapers, to feedings, to helping them with education, doing classwork," said special education assistant Yolanda Mims-Reed. "I do mobility issues. I handle that."
Both SEIU and UTLA agreed to strike should the demands not be met. An announcement is expected to be made during the rally that would authorize a three-day strike that would force the closure of all district schools.
Superintendent Alberto Carvalho announced Tuesday that schools would most likely close should a three-day strike of 65,000 teachers and school staff happen.
"If this strike does occur, despite our best efforts to avoid it, due to the anticipated lack of both teachers and school staff, it is likely we would have to close schools — without virtual education — until the strike ends," Carvalho said in an email to families. "We would simply have no way of ensuring a safe and secure environment where teaching can take place. We will give you as much advance notice as possible, but we encourage you to begin discussions with your employer, childcare providers and others now."
The average salary of school workers with LAUSD is approximately $25,000 annually, with most working part-time hours. SEIU says that these are some of the factors that make it difficult for the district to recruit sufficient staff services.
SEIU officials are asking for a 30% wage increase across the board, while UTLA has been pushing for a 20% raise. The unions have pointed to the district's projected $4.9 billion reserve fund for 2022-23, while also citing rising inflation and housing costs.
"Members of SEIU Local 99 have been negotiating with the district since April 2022, demanding equitable wage increases, more full-time work, respectful treatment, and increased staffing levels for improved student services," said a statement released by SEIU.
They claimed that LAUSD has not yet shown significant movement towards filling those demands.
"Let's go to the table," said Carvalho. "Let's stay at the table. Whatever time, whatever place, until a solution is reached. Let's choose the road that's less traveled for the benefit of our kids."
According to the statement, workers were allegedly subjected to "surveillance, intimidation and harassment by the school district."
Another round of negotiations is scheduled for Friday. District officials said last week that Carvalho had made the SEIU union "one of the strongest offers ever proposed by a Los Angeles Unified superintendent." According to the district, the offer included a 5% wage increase retroactive to July 2021, another 5% increase retroactive to July 2022and another 5% increase effective July 2023, along with a 4% bonus in 2022-23 and a 5% bonus in 2023-24.
"My promise is no matter what the outcome is, it'll be far better than this district has ever arrived at or anything that most districts, if any district, will be able to reach in the near future," said Carvalho.
If a strike happens, the district will offer food distribution at about 60 locations, childcare options for working parents and instruction packets will be sent to students' homes.