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Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Howard Blume, Dakota Smith and Debbie Truong

LA Unified School District and union workers who led massive strike reach tentative agreement

LOS ANGELES — A tentative agreement has been reached to end the protracted contract dispute that shut down Los Angeles public schools for three days, officials announced Friday afternoon.

The tentative pact, reached after mediation with Mayor Karen Bass, could, if approved by union members, prevent campuses from being closed again to 420,000 students and spare low-wage workers from job actions that would have been difficult to bear.

Local 99 of Service Employees International Union — which represents about 30,000 workers and includes bus drivers, teacher aides, special education assistants, custodians and food service workers — led the strike that began Tuesday and ended Thursday.

Also on strike in solidarity were members of United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents about 35,000 teachers, counselors, therapists, nurses and librarians.

But the end of the strike — which had a fixed duration — was not the end of the contract dispute, and hanging over negotiations was the possibility of future job actions.

Even before the settlement, Local 99 had claimed success in bringing the plight of some of the school district’s lowest-paid workers to broad public attention locally and nationally.

The strike not only shuttered campuses, which reopened Friday, but roiled family schedules as parents scrambled to find day care and secure meals normally provided at school. Across the school system, parents expressed strong support for the efforts of low-wage workers to improve their lives, but some criticized the job action that closed schools as causing unnecessary harm to children already struggling to recover from the campus closures of the pandemic.

On Thursday, at the muddy grounds of Los Angeles State Historic Park, a sea of union members clad in red and purple celebrated the end of their strike as they banged drums and buckets and sounded noisemakers amid blaring music.

“When we fight we win!” they chanted, along with teachers and family members who joined them in support.

UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz fired up the rally, telling them they had “put LAUSD on notice” that every worker deserved dignity and a living wage.

“You braved some hail and you braved the hellish rains and we took the fight to every corner of this Los Angeles,” she called out. “Our unity has shifted the power dynamic in LAUSD. We have changed the narrative and now everybody knows who runs L.A.!”

Throughout the rally, participants bashed district leadership, especially Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, but a deal was already getting close — so close that Local 99 Executive Director Max Arias skipped the penultimate gathering, where he would have been a featured speaker.

An important breakthrough was the intervention of Bass, who stepped in Wednesday to mediate — an intense effort that began Wednesday.

Early word of Bass’ involvement came Wednesday, posted on social media, by Los Angeles school officials. This announcement and subsequent comments from those on both sides were intentionally spare on details.

However, it appeared unlikely that anything would have prevented the three-day walkout from going forward as planned, starting on Tuesday.

On the day before the strike, union negotiators and district negotiators were never in the same building, let alone the same room, Carvalho said Monday.

The strike rationale

The union had defined the walkout as a three-day protest of unfair labor practices, which typically involve allegations that an employer has interfered in legally protected, union-related activity.

Blanca Gallegos, the union spokesperson, said violations included illegal messaging from district officials, such as alleged threats of termination or retaliation against workers for voting to support a walkout or participating in one. The union also alleged that the district changed job classifications “for no reason” and gave “poor job performances” to bargaining team members because they were negotiating.

District officials denied wrongdoing. An approved agreement is likely to end most of these cases, although additional review may be needed where employees allege harm to their employment status.

L.A. Unified also is likely to pursue a claim that the two unions staged an illegal strike.

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