LAUSD workers go on strike

School workers in the Los Angeles Unified School District go on a three day strike, halting classes for more than half a million students.

More than 30,000 school workers from the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) went on strike, demanding better pay and improved working conditions.

Low wages and poor work environments have recently been a massive issue for school workers in the Los Angeles Unified School District, one of the country’s largest districts. From March 21 to March 23, 2023, more than 30,000 school support staff such as custodians and cafeteria workers from the Service Employees International Union Local 99 (SEIU Local 99) in the LAUSD district went on strike, protesting for better pay and improved working conditions. LAUSD teachers walked out along with the school workers, canceling classes for more than 565,000 students in the nation’s second largest school district.

“[We are] demanding equitable wages, more full-time work, respectful treatment, & increased staffing levels for improved student services,” the official SEIU Local 99 account stated via Twitter.

The strike started at 6:30 a.m. on March 21 in the Van Nuys bus yard, where many bus drivers marched in heavy rain. They formed a picket line, holding up signs that read, “We keep schools safe. Respect Us!”

Bus driver Jovita Padilla, like many other staff in the LAUSD district, expressed her frustration of not receiving a raise in the past few years.

“We need a fair living wage,” Padilla said. “Everybody gets raises, what about us?”

Over the next two days, the strike moved to other areas, such as downtown LA.

According to the union, the average salary of the workers is $25,000 annually, which, according to them, is considered extremely low. This is partly due to the fact that many workers work part-time, which also leads to staffing shortages.

“We shouldn’t be paying them poverty wages,” US Senate candidate Adam Schiff chimed in support of the strikers. “How can you possibly live in LA on $25,000 a year?”

School support staff were striking for other reasons as well. According to SEIU Local 99, the workers also wanted pay for “unassigned days,” days in which schools are closed due to abnormally high absence levels, as well as access to health care benefits for workers who work less than four hours a day. Additionally, according to news website, the workers were also demanding paid training days and “the ability to cash out on vacation pay.”

However, it’s not as simple as it sounds. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho argued that raising wages too much could turn the district bankrupt.

“We cannot drive the school system into a bankruptcy position,” Carvalho said. “If we were to acquiesce to all the demands, that is exactly where we would be, [which] is not legally allowable.”

The LAUSD district offered the workers a 23% salary increase and a 3% bonus in an effort to prevent the strike a day before, but workers found that to still be too low, as they were seeking a 30% salary increase.

A tentative deal was reached between the LAUSD district and school support staff on Friday, March 24. The deal ensured a 30% wage increase, $1,000 bonus, and a $33,000 average annual salary, along with fully paid health care benefits and seven hours of work guaranteed for special education assistants.