Los Angeles public school support workers, teachers, and supporters walk the picket line

Los Angeles public school support workers, teachers, and supporters walk the picket line in front of an elementary school in Los Angeles, California, on March 21, 2023.

(Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

Demanding Respect for All School Workers, LA Teachers Shut Down 2nd-Largest US School District

"As workers we are powerful. As parents we are powerful. As the people united, we are unstoppable."

An estimated 65,000 teachers and school staffers from across Los Angeles walked picket lines in the rain on Tuesday as the city's public school district employees went on strike—but more than half of the picketers were staging the walkout in solidarity, protesting conditions that don't directly affect them.

The 35,000 teachers who are represented by United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) joined cafeteria workers, bus drivers, teaching aides, grounds workers, and others who help ensure that more than 1,000 public schools in Los Angeles run safely and smoothly, demanding that support staff are treated fairly by the district.

"We are LA Public Schools," tweeted UTLA. "We are on strike because we won't let the district treat any of us with disrespect. It stops here."

Classes were canceled across the district—the second-largest in the nation.

As Common Dreams reported Monday, support workers represented by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 99 have been in contract negotiations with the district since April 2022, and the union is demanding a 30% overall pay raise to help ensure its members can afford to live in one of the country's most expensive cities.

SEIU Local 99 members currently earn about $25,000 on average.

Speaking to The New York Times, SEIU Local 99 executive director Max Arias said the union's last contract expired in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020—"when his workers were on the front lines helping to feed students at lunch pickup sites even as schools were closed."

"We are now here demanding respect from the district, and it starts with livable wages," said one member on a picket line on Tuesday.

Arias noted at a rally in Tuesday that the district can afford to spend far more on employees' compensation.

"Let me be clear, the district has approximately between a $13 billion and $14 billion budget a year," he said. "Out of that budget, it spends between 5% and 6% on payroll for 40% of the workforce. That's negligible."

Bus drivers were some of the first employees on the picket lines Tuesday, marching and chanting in the early morning hours.

"We're often the first LAUSD employees that students see in the early morning when we pick them up and the last ones they see when we drop them off," said SEIU Local 99. "We are essential and demand respect."

Special education teacher Opal Getaw told the Times that her own daily living expenses have risen in recent months amid inflation, and that she "could not imagine" the financial struggles her colleagues in support services are facing.

"It's not just about teachers, it's about community and camaraderie, it's about our colleagues," Getaw told the Times. "They want a fair chance and an ability to be able to earn enough, to have what everybody wants: a good life."

In a number of picket lines, teachers dressed in ponchos danced in the rain.

The union said in December that the negotiations had reached an impasse, and members voted overwhelmingly to strike last month. The strike has been called in response to unfair negotiating tactics, according to the union, rather than demands for fair pay.

SEIU Local 99 said Monday that the district subjected members "to surveillance, intimidation, and harassment" during the bargaining and strike voting process, and broke a confidentiality agreement.

"This afternoon, SEIU Local 99 had agreed to enter a confidential mediation process with LAUSD to try and address our differences," said Arias. "Unfortunately, LAUSD broke that confidentiality by sharing it with the media before our bargaining team, which makes all decisions, had a chance to discuss how to proceed. This is yet another example of the school district's continued disrespect of school workers. We are ready to strike."

LAUSD attempted to block the strike, issuing a complaint to state officials that the strike is actually in response to members' pay and that the union has not exhausted all bargaining possibilities before staging a walkout. The state rejected those claims over the weekend.

The strike is set to continue through Thursday.

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