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Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Howard Blume

LAUSD unions to announce timing of three-day strike that would shut down schools

LOS ANGELES — Leaders of a union that represents financially struggling low-wage workers will announce on Wednesday the timing of a three-day strike that would involve teachers and force the shutdown of Los Angeles public schools, dealing another blow to the education of more than 420,000 students.

The walkout of as many as 65,000 workers — expected to take place in the next two weeks — would represent the largest and longest full disruption of education in the nation's second-largest school system since the six-day teachers' strike of 2019. Not even the campus closures of the COVID-19 pandemic, which lasted more than a year in Los Angeles, resulted in a complete halt to academic instruction.

The labor action comes as district officials are discussing plans to offer two optional days of school over spring break — on April 3 and 4 — a project that has so far attracted a small fraction of students, about 6,000. Officials said they would be pleased to reach 340,000 or more but are determined to go forward with whoever signs up by the March 24 deadline.

This extra learning time — called acceleration days — has become caught up in the labor dispute, with leaders of the teachers union and its supporters calling these optional days a costly and poor use of resources.

The looming walkout would be led by Local 99 of Service Employees International Union. Local 99 represents about 30,000 workers including bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria and other food service workers, campus security aides, teaching assistants and aides for students with disabilities.

Local 99 would be joined in a solidarity strike by United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents 35,000 teachers, counselors, therapists, nurses and librarians.

L.A. schools Supt. Alberto Carvalho announced Monday night that campuses would close because he could not ensure the safety of students without teachers and support staff.

To families, he said: "We encourage you to begin discussions with your employer, child care providers and others now."

To employees, he said: "We are making every effort to provide students with resources for learning, social emotional well-being and nourishment in the event of a strike."

For many union members, the walkout represents a painful but necessary step toward reaching a contract agreement to improve the lives of employees, while also helping to recruit and retain high-quality workers who serve students.

"Hopefully, there won't be a three-day stoppage but, evidently, this is something that we might have to do to get the attention of the people to make the decision to increase our wages," said Karimu McNeal, who works as a parent and community representative for 20 hours a week at Dorsey High in South Los Angeles.

McNeal said she planned to attend a Wednesday afternoon rally in downtown's Grand Park hosted by Local 99 and UTLA.

For many parents, a strike would represent unnecessary harm to students and families.

"SEIU is one of the unions that defends workers who have the lowest wages," said Diana Guillen, head of the district parent advisory committee for English learners. "These workers are part of our community. We are in agreement that they should get a raise. But I'm not in agreement with a strike. Academically this won't help at all."

The teachers union had significant parent support during its 2019 strike; there is no reliable gauge of where most parents stand this time.

Moderators of the large Facebook group Parents Supporting Teachers said blame should fall on school district officials if campuses close.

"There is not one parent in this school district who wants a strike, not one," co-founders Nicolle Fefferman and Jenna Schwartz said in a statement. "And while we aren't budget specialists, we see a constant rolling out of new programs, new logos, acceleration days and other initiatives that cost huge amounts of money when the true value of our schools are the people inside.

"You know what is cheaper and less cumbersome than outsourcing tutoring? Smaller class sizes. Just like our kids won't do well in school without food, neither will our staff," the group leaders said. "We don't want acceleration days; we want cafeteria workers paid fairly."

Another view came from Lourdes Lopez, who has children at three district schools.

"Why are they going on strike when our children need to be in school? I understand that the unions want to impact, but they can't be doing this with the district," said Lopez, who is a member of the group Our Voice: Communities for Quality Education. "Our children are so far behind. ... There is much anxiety for our families, especially Latino families like mine. We live in cramped spaces and we will have our children at home during the day without the ability to teach them — the disruption will be enormous."

Local 99 leaders said their strike would be in protest of alleged illegal actions by L.A. Unified during the negotiation process. Such actions, called an "unfair labor practice" strike by the National Labor Relations Board, typically last for a fixed duration and can be staged without going through the steps of bargaining that usually precede an open-ended strike, according to the unions.

L.A. Unified officials have denied wrongdoing.

Leaders of Local 99 recently declared an impasse in bargaining and are moving through the mediation and fact-finding process. The union, which has yet to settle wage issues dating to the 2020-21 school year, is seeking a 30% increase for all members, with an additional boost for the lowest-wage workers.

The teachers union is seeking a 20% raise over two years, starting with 10% for the current school year. The union bargaining platform is extensive, covering a number of workplace and social justice issues, including a commitment to extra resources for Black students and affordable housing for low-income families.

"I don't think we're going to have a strike," said board President Jackie Goldberg. "They're pressuring us. That's what unions do."

She noted that another bargaining session will take place Friday: "I think we have a basis of making an agreement with both of those unions, before any strike action is necessary."

Board member Tanya Ortiz Franklin said there's a lot at stake.

"We need more instructional time, not less, and our workers deserve to be well compensated," Franklin said. "Many of our SEIU members in particular are parents of our L.A. Unified students."

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