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Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Howard Blume

Los Angeles teachers, other workers plan massive 3-day strike as labor woes explode

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles teachers union plans to join an anticipated three-day strike — possibly within two weeks — with thousands of L.A. Unified's non-teaching workers, actions that would likely shut down schools in an explosion of labor discontent.

Local 99 — which represents more than 25,000 cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians, special education assistants and others — has reached an impasse in its monthslong negotiations with the district over demands for an across-the-board 30% raise, with more for the lowest wage earners. The union is expected to announce the timing of its three-day walkout at a joint rally with the teachers union Wednesday.

UTLA is also in the throes of labor negotiations, seeking a 20% wage increase over two years and a long list of school initiatives. On Friday the union sent a letter to Superintendent Alberto Carvalho stating it was terminating its contract with the district, a legal maneuver that would allow its members to join Local 99's strike, according to information posted online by the teachers union.

"This action shows that we are fed up with the pace of negotiations," the union post states. A UTLA joint rally with Local 99 demonstrates the force of union solidarity aimed at ratcheting up pressure on the district.

"Terminating the contract takes away from LAUSD executing a frivolous legal argument that they raised in 2019 that terminating the contract must occur before before UTLA as an organization can engage" in a strike, a union FAQ states.

If Local 99 of Service Employees International Union does not reach an agreement with the district, teachers would stay home or picket alongside them. Local 99 had previously terminated its contract with the district, clearing the way for its own walkout. Its workers include part-time employees and those earning among the lowest wages in the school system.

"You do not go into work," the teachers union advised its members. "You should join the [Local 99] picket line at your school site. If there is not a picket line at your school site, you should join one at a nearby school. There will be rallies during the strike and everyone should plan on attending those as well."

Spokespeople from both unions were not immediately available for comment.

Earlier this week, a Local 99 statement said the union was canceling its contract "to protest LAUSD's harassment of workers who participated in union activities, including a vote to strike last month. The cancellation of the contract also ends a 'no-strike' provision, moving workers one step closer to a possible strike to protest the district's unlawful practices."

The district has denied wrongdoing and also acknowledged the possibility of a strike in a statement this week:

"SEIU Local 99 provided 10 days notice of their intent to end their contract with Los Angeles Unified. This action takes them one step closer to a strike, which would cause a significant disruption to instruction, and would adversely impact our entire system."

The district also posted on social media that its offers to employees are fair.

In touting the benefits of its wage package to Local 99, L.A. Unified said its minimum wage of $20 per hour would surpass by at least 25% what is required by California as well as Los Angeles County.

"To reach a swift conclusion and come to an agreement that is fair to our hardworking staff while maintaining our ability to serve students, Los Angeles Unified presented a historic, comprehensive offer to SEIU Local 99 that would support both full-time and part-time employees," the district stated.

The UTLA letter to the district accuses L.A. Unified of unreasonably clinging to a multibillion-dollar reserve and negotiating in bad faith, saying L.A. Unified has "barely budged in its position over such crucial issues as class size, staffing ratios, compensation, Special Education, the Black Student Achievement Plan, Community Schools, and more."

UTLA represents teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians.

Teachers are seeking a 10% raise each of the next two years. The district has offered a raise of 5% per year plus two one-time bonuses of 5%. Carvalho has also indicated there is some room to offer more but suggested the union must compromise on some other issues.

The teachers union has a complex, varied and lengthy "Beyond Recovery" platform that goes well beyond salaries and benefits. The union, for example, is demanding a guaranteed continuation of the Black Student Achievement Plan and efforts to provide low-income families with housing, although it's not clear which of these planks the union would be willing to strike over.

Local 99 recently announced a pending Unfair Practice Charge strike in protest of what it claims are dozens of illegal acts by the school system to impede union members from exercising their rights to convene and deliberate as union members. Such a strike — of a specific duration — can take place without going through all the steps of the traditional negotiation process.

It's not clear that the district could keep campuses open if both unions walked out simultaneously. During the six-day teachers strike of 2019, campuses remained open — providing food and supervision — but instruction was limited and attendance was low.

The next negotiation session with the teachers union is March 17.

A deal between the district and Local 99 would avert the three-day strike.

"When we get 35,000 UTLA members joining 25,000 SEIU members in their three-day UPC strike, that's 60,000 people," the union said in an online posting. "Once LAUSD experiences that, you know they are not going to want to go through it again. This will help us force LAUSD to agree to our demands."


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