In a historic show of solidarity, 65,000 public school workers from Service Employees International Union Local 99 and United Teachers Los Angeles are striking for three days, from March 21 to 23. Local 99 represents cafeteria workers, custodians, bus drivers and many other service professions. The union is currently bargaining with the Los Angeles Unified School District for a 30% wage increase, more full time positions, equitable access to health care, and more in an effort to provide a livable income and a better work environment.
Local 99 called for the Unfair Labor Practice strike after it declared an impasse in negotiations with LAUSD in December 2022. The union says the district began retaliating against employees by surveilling, harassing or threatening members for participating in union activities. In February, 96% of members approved a strike.
“The payments we get for what we do are too low, and the amount of work is too much,” explained Maria Martinez, a Local 99 member and bathroom attendant at Franklin High School in Highland Park. “There are too few of us doing this work for the amount of students we have.”
“We are also in support of workers because they are also our parents,” Mark Ramos, UTLA elected board member and social studies teacher, shared. “Many of the folks on this line are also parents here, and they can’t even afford to feed their kids. That is an unjust act that shouldn’t happen at any public institution where our goal, for the future of this nation, is to teach children.”
While Local 99 mostly represents service workers in education, UTLA represents mostly teachers and counselors. UTLA is also in the middle of a new contract negotiation, which the district has likewise met with lack of serious negotiation. The union is bargaining for the Beyond Recovery Platform, which would increase educator wages by 20% over 2 years, shrink classroom sizes and caseloads, provide green spaces on campus and more.
LAUSD’s anti-worker response
Both unions assert that the district is currently sitting on $3.4 billion in unrestricted reserves, which it could use to meet the demands of the contracts and improve educational outcomes for students within the district. Superintendent Alberto Carlvalho denies this. Meanwhile, his salary of $36,000 per month grossly exceeds the average wage of a Local 99 member, currently at $25,000 annually and well below a livable wage in Los Angeles.
Ramos added that, “[Carvalho] makes more than the governor of California or the president of the United States. He’s profiting off the backs of women of color, people of color, making millions while we are out here in the rain.”
“It’s my understanding that the superintendent raised his own salary,” Martinez continued. “After COVID, the employees did not receive any increase in wages, only an increase in our workload.”
Current union members are not alone with these sentiments. In addition to support from families and students, former LAUSD Superintendent Autin Buetner responded that “with record revenue, the district ought to be able to afford to take care of those who have helped the community so much.”
Education workers are not backing down
This strike comes a few short years after another historic UTLA strike in 2019. That strike was successful in pushing the district to negotiate a fair contract after two weeks of picketing. This current strike is set to last three days. Despite unfavorable weather with rain and cold temperatures, morale among crowds remains high.
“We want to continue, if it is not resolved today,” asserted Martinez, “we want to continue the strike tomorrow. It is very necessary for our families to have a better life.”