LOS ANGELES — A mammoth strike led by Los Angeles Unified’s lowest-paid workers and supported by teachers kept district campuses closed Wednesday, as the second day of a three-day walkout brought throngs of staff and teachers back to the picket lines.
The strike, set to last through Thursday, culminated a monthslong escalation of labor tensions in the nation’s second-largest school district of 420,000 students. Bus drivers, custodians, special education assistants, cafeteria workers — members of Local 99 of Service Employees International Union — are calling for a 30% salary increase, plus $2 more per hour for the lowest-paid employees.
Last ditch-efforts to avert the walkout failed late Monday, and no new talks are scheduled. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has pleaded with employees to return to bargaining, calling the district’s offer of a 23% pay increase and 3% bonus “historic.”
But frustrated union members showed growing resolve in their walkout, which is technically a protest over the school district’s alleged unfair labor practices. Bus drivers joined by other strikers and supporters showed up to the district’s Gardena bus lot before 6 a.m. Wednesday to begin picketing, yelling “Don’t Cross,” and carrying signs that read “Equitable wages NOW!” and “Salarios justos AHORA!”
Teachers across the 700 square miles arrived for a second day of picketing about 6:30 a.m., with plans for rallies at regional district headquarters later in the day.
The walkout has roiled family schedules, as thousands of parents Tuesday sought day care, missed work and lined up at city centers for grab-and-go food packs of six meals to tide over their school-age children through Thursday. Some parents lamented that the school shutdown was harming their children’s emotional health and academic progress, while others said they backed the walkout.
County and city leaders will again offer free day care options for families, but food distribution was offered only on Tuesday, with more than 124,000 meals handed out to cover the three days, according to the district.
Max Arias, executive director of Local 99, said the decision to walk off the job was a “last resort” for his 30,000 members — many of whom must take second or third jobs to survive — after almost a year of bargaining for better wages. The union’s goal has been to raise the average annual wage of members from $25,000 to $36,000.
“We’ve had enough of empty promises,” Arias said from Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in Koreatown. “If LAUSD truly values and is serious about reaching an agreement, they must show workers the respect they deserve.”
Veronica De La Paz, 46, among the picketers Tuesday, works as a campus aide and parent representative at Hobart Boulevard Elementary School. She is limited to six hours a day between both jobs even though she would like to work more.
Her earnings of $1,100 every two weeks make it difficult for her and her husband, who works in a garment district packaging job. She calculates the cheapest meal options for her family and forgoes buying new clothes for her son, a first grader at Hobart.
“Within less than a week, it was gone, this last check. And I’m waiting for the next one,” she said. “It feels really bad to feel that way, where you have to choose (to) not buy a simple little toy for your son.”
The walkout was supported by United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents 35,000 teachers, counselors, therapists, nurses and librarians, many of whom stayed off the job in solidarity and joined picket lines.
Danny Armstrong, a drama teacher at Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences in Granada Hills, said he would need to tighten his belt to forgo pay for three days — probably eating ramen to get by. But he attended a union rally at district headquarters Tuesday — and brought his daughter Honey, a 16-year-old Valley Academy junior — to support staff members who keep schools running.
“It breaks my heart that the district’s message to our children is ‘Hey, we’re not going to pay the people who take care of you,’ so we don’t really care about you,” Armstrong said.
Honey said the civics exercise taught her an important lesson: “If you want a good education, you’re going to fight for it,” she said.
Over the weekend, the district offered Local 99 members a cumulative 23% raise, starting with 2% retroactive as of the 2020-21 school year and ending with 5% in 2024-25. The package would also include a one-time 3% bonus for those who have been on the job since 2020-21, along with expanded hours, more full-time positions and improved eligibility for healthcare benefits.
At Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, Carvalho said district leaders had “incredible respect” for workers and the offer recognized they made “huge sacrifices” for the families they serve. But he said the union wage demands, coupled with raises for other union and nonunion employees, would exceed what the district can afford over the long term. The union argues that the district’s reserves are large enough to afford the pay increases.
Because the wage-negotiation process is still under way, Local 99 called the strike to protest alleged unfair labor practices. Although district officials have either denied wrongdoing or are still reviewing more than a dozen allegations filed with state labor regulators by Local 99, Carvalho has nonetheless pledged an investigation into the claims.
For many parents, the strike has stirred mixed feelings. About a dozen parents spoke at Tuesday’s school board meeting, calling for an end to the strike.
“It does impact education,” said Maria Nieto. “I invite the union to please respect the rights of our children, just like I ask for respect for what they are demanding. And I invite you as an executive board to sit down and negotiate as soon as possible to stop all of this.”
The shutdown of more than 1,000 schools forced many working parents to scramble for child care. The school district and city and county recreation centers are providing limited openings at more than 200 sites through Thursday. By the day’s end Tuesday some 1,353 students attended these programs, below the potential capacity of about 15,000, district officials reported.
Roxana Tynan, whose daughter attends Eagle Rock, joined strikers Tuesday and said she was aware most parents didn’t have the luxury of a flexible schedule to protest, but thought any short-term pain from closed campuses was worth the long-term gains.
“Of course, we want our kids in school,” she said. But, she added, “we’re going to keep losing teachers and staff like special ed aides, custodians and others if we don’t pay better. This is in the best interests of our children.”
(Los Angeles Times staff writers Brittny Mejia, Sonja Sharp, Debbie Truong and Teresa Watanabe contributed to this report.)