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Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Howard Blume

LA Unified files last-ditch legal challenge to stop looming strike and school closures

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles Unified officials are mounting a last-ditch legal challenge to stall or prevent a three-day strike that would shut down classrooms across the nation’s second-largest school district starting on Tuesday.

The district has asked state labor regulators to issue an injunction to halt the strike, alleging that it is illegal. District sources acknowledged that they don’t know if the state Public Employment Relations Board will act on the filing in time to prevent the strike.

The challenge cites the unusual legal basis and timing of the walkout, which would occur before the typical step-by-step bargaining process has been completed.

The strike is being led by Local 99 of Service Employees International Union, which represents about 30,000 bus drivers, teacher aides, campus security aides, special education assistants, custodians, gardeners and cafeteria workers. Leaders of United Teachers Los Angeles have encouraged their members to join the walkout. UTLA represents about 35,000 teachers, nurses, counselors, therapists and librarians.

Each union is on a separate negotiating track with L.A. Unified. Local 99 is further along in the process, having reached the fact-finding stage, according to documents filed with state labor regulators.

Generally, fact-finding would be completed before a strike. In addition, both sides also would have to present their “last, best and final offer.”

But this job action is different.

It is, in effect, a protest by Local 99 in response to alleged illegal acts by L.A. Unified that the union claims have impeded its leadership and members from engaging in lawful union-related activity.

The district denies any wrongdoing. In its filing, the district accuses Local 99 of using unfounded allegations as a pretext when, in fact, the real issue leading to the strike is the district’s unwillingness to meet the union’s demands over wages, benefits and other terms.

The filing also calls for an injunction simply because certain certain Local 99 members are “essential employees” whose absence from work during the strike would “imminently threaten the public health and safety.”

The L.A. Unified filing also notes that the state labor board “has held that strikes or other work stoppages before completion” of the negotiating process “violates the union’s duty to negotiate in good faith, and/or to participate in good faith in the impasse resolution process.”

Local 99 had not had an opportunity to review the filing for the injunction and did not provide an immediate response early Friday evening.

A settlement that would prevent the strike appeared unlikely Friday as no negotiations took place between L.A. Unified officials and Local 99.

The teachers union bargained with the district on Friday, but a settlement in these negotiations also appeared unlikely. And, even a settlement with UTLA would not prevent Local 99 members from walking out.

Local 99 last held a bargaining session with the district on March 1. L.A. schools Supt. Alberto Carvalho said this week that he and his team are ready to meeting with Local 99 “around the clock” to prevent a strike.

He urged the union not to undertake a step that would further harm students already struggling to recover academically and emotionally from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Union officials suggest the effort was insincere and too little, too late.

“More than half of SEIU Local 99 members are also parents of school-aged children, many of them students at LAUSD,” spokeswoman Blanca Gallegos said Friday. “We are keenly aware of the impact that a strike will have on our families. LAUSD has pushed workers to take this step because of their continued disrespect of workers who are simply seeking to improve their livelihoods and the student services they provide.”

She added: “SEIU Local 99 also continues to follow the legal mediation process with the state. If LAUSD wants to break the impasse process, they must meet workers’ demands for a living wage, increased hours, more staffing and respect on the job.”

The union is seeking an across-the-board 30% increase plus an additional $2 per hour for the lowest paid workers.

The district had been offering a 15% increase over three years plus one-time bonuses of 4% and 5% in consecutive years.

On Friday, the district amended its offered:

5% one-time bonus for the 2020-21 school year

5% ongoing increase for 2021-22

5% ongoing increase for 2022-23

6% ongoing increase for 2023-23

3% ongoing increase for 2024-25

Meanwhile, the school system, the city, the county and local groups continue to prepare contingency plans for a walkout.

L.A. Unified has launched to provide resources for families during the work stoppage period. Updates and additional information will be posted “as it becomes available,” according to the school system.

The website includes information regarding learning activities, Grab & Go food locations, tutoring services, enrichment activities and cultural opportunities across Los Angeles and Los Angeles County Park locations that will provide free youth programs.

Principals also will contact families daily to provide pertinent updates, the district stated.

The school system also will post updates on social media.

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