Massive three-day LAUSD teacher and staff strike set for Tuesday, closing all schools

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A three-day strike that would shut down Los Angeles public schools is scheduled to start Tuesday, union leaders announced Wednesday during a massive downtown rally by the district’s two largest employee groups.

L.A. schools Supt. Alberto Carvalho on Wednesday urged union leadership to negotiate “around the clock” to avert the strike, which he said would further harm more than 420,000 students trying to recover academically and emotionally from the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced them into remote learning for more than year.

Union leaders responded that they are looking out for the long-term interest of students as well as workers through their demands for higher pay and improved working and learning conditions.

The anticipated walkout of as many as 65,000 workers 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 pandemic campus closures, which lasted more than a year in Los Angeles, resulted in a complete halt to academic instruction.

The Grand Park rally drew thousands of participants, filling so much of the park that massive loudspeakers could not even reach participants more than a block away, with members of Local 99 of Service Employees International Union wearing purple and members of United Teachers Los Angeles wearing red.

“We have to be ready to stand strong,” Local 99 Executive Director Max Arias told The Times. “I want to show the city of L.A. that if we do have to go to strike, it’s really to improve the schools, even though the students might be missing a few days. At the end of the day, we need to have clean, safe schools for all.”

He said the contract demands in total would increase his members’ average salary from $25,000 to $36,000.

“We’ve been at the table for 26 sessions,” said teachers union President Cecily Myart-Cruz. “And we’ve been there since May. And there has been very little movement. There have been a couple of things that we’ve agreed on. But we want to talk about our whole ‘Beyond Recovery’ contract proposals, because we know that our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions.”

The UTLA proposals demand sustained funding for special programs to help Black students, smaller classes and efforts to develop affordable housing for low-income families.

The looming walkout would be led by Local 99, which 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 UTLA, which represents 35,000 teachers, counselors, therapists, nurses and librarians.

The rally unfolded after a morning news conference by Carvalho, in which he said that he and district negotiators are prepared to meet to avoid a strike.

“I have 2, 3, 4 chairs around the table,” Carvalho said. “And I commit myself 24/7, day and night … to find a solution that will avoid, will avert, a strike that will avoid keeping kids home, will avoid kids from going hungry in our community without access to the food they get in school.”

Fifth-grade teacher Marisol Cabrera arrived at Grand Park draped in red with colleagues from South Gate’s Montara Avenue Elementary School. He carried a cutout of Carvalho in one hand and an iPad in the other.

The 27-year veteran zoomed into a mandatory school meeting with her hand-held device while marching with a 3-foot long sign on her chest that read, “Carvalho does not care about our kids!”

“We’re here in solidarity with our Local 99 friends to say we want to be in class, we want to teach and we do not accept the narrative that we’re shutting down the schools,” Cabrera, 50, said.

Also at the rally was special education assistant Amy Rendon, a 32-year-old parent of a toddler who works with children at Evergreen Elementary in Boyle Heights, changing diapers, hand-feeding them, whatever is needed. She earns $20 an hour for a six-hour-a-day shift in a position that starts at $19 per hour. Her caseload is too large, she said, and students are getting too little attention and too little consistency because of turnover.

School board President Jackie Goldberg — who earlier expressed optimism there would not be a strike — seemed less certain Wednesday.

“It’s the first time since I’ve been doing this there has been no back-and-forth,” said Goldberg. “There was a statement of: ‘This is it. And that’s it.’ That’s not negotiations. Makes me very disappointed.”

Carvalho said that Local 99 has failed to respond to the district’s two most recent offers.

A spokesperson for Local 99 said that blame for the stalled talks lies with the district.

“LAUSD had two months to negotiate with SEIU Local 99 members,” said Blanca Gallegos. “They never reached out to us. During the mediation process, they made no significant movement. SEIU Local 99 has not walked away from the bargaining table. We are currently at impasse and following the legal process for negotiations.”

Leaders from both unions have accused district leaders of negotiating in bad faith over their broad range of proposals and failing to commit enough of the district’s reserves to contract offers.

In his remarks, Carvalho took aim at the union’s focus on the school system’s anticipated $4.9-billion ending balance for the current school year. He said union leaders are giving their members “false hope” because most of that funding is either already committed to future expenses, is restricted for special purposes or is one-time funding that should not be applied toward ongoing wage increases.

He added that the district, nonetheless, is prepared to enhance its current offer when union leaders return to the table.

Carvalho said that the district is in discussions with community groups over how they can help in distributing food on school days and assisting with child care for families. The district also is preparing academic materials for students to take home, he said.

Beyond the negotiating table, both the school district and union are jousting for public opinion.

The teachers union enjoyed broad public support for its 2019 strike. Months later, however, local voters rejected a tax increase for schools that was backed by the union and school district.

There is strong potential support for teachers should negotiations falter, according to a new poll from Loyola Marymount University.

Pollsters asked: LAUSD teachers requested an increase in salary. If labor negotiations cannot reach an agreement, would you support or oppose LAUSD teachers going on strike to meet their demands?

Among L.A. residents, a strike was strongly supported by 39% and somewhat supported by 37%. Only 10% strongly opposed a strike and 14% somewhat opposed a strike.

Support for a strike was also relatively strong among parents, with 79% of Los Angeles County residents with a child at home saying they were supportive.

Meanwhile, Carvalho had middling to positive ratings. Among residents in the school district: 16% gave him a letter grade of A; 29% a B, 36% a C; 13% a D, and 9% an F. Carvalho became superintendent 13 months ago after a long tenure leading Miami’s schools.

The poll conducted Jan. 4 through Feb. 5, comprised telephone sessions, online and face-to-face surveys with 2,008 adults living in Los Angeles County. The survey was conducted in English, Spanish, Mandarin, and Korean. The LAUSD superintendent grade question was only asked of city of Los Angeles respondents. The strike support question was asked countywide.

Historically, strikes are relatively rare in L.A. Unified and this one would be especially unusual because of the coordination between the two unions. In addition, the strike is not over deadlocked negotiations but over Local 99’s allegations that the school district has illegally interfered with the union-related activities of its members. Neither union has exhausted the typical negotiation process, which includes time set aside for mediation and fact-finding.

Carvalho said he has authorized his legal team to look into measures that would delay or prevent the walkout, but he did not elaborate on what these would be.

Goldberg said she believes a deal remains within quick reach.

“We have the resources to make this the best offer in the country in both SEIU and UTLA, the best offer in the entire nation — ongoing, not one-time — ongoing because we value our employees,” she said.

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 district is offering a 5% ongoing wage increase retroactive to July 1, 2021, an additional 5% ongoing wage increase retroactive to July 1, 2022, and a 5% wage increase that would take effect on July 1, 2023. In addition, employees would receive a one-time 4% “retention bonus” for the current school year and a one-time 5% bonus the following year.

The teachers union is seeking a 20% raise over two years, starting with 10% for the current school year.

The district’s offer is a 5% ongoing raise plus a 4% one-time bonus for the current year and an additional 5% ongoing wage increase plus a 5% bonus for next year.

A bargaining session with the teachers union is scheduled for Friday. Local 99 has not agreed to a date for the next session, Carvalho said. Local 99 said it continues to bargain in a responsible manner.

“We are currently awaiting on the state Public Employment Relations Board to set up a panel so we can begin the fact-finding process, which is part of the impasse procedure,” Gallegos said.

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