Los Angeles Schools Close as Support Staff Strike

The three-day strike has shut down the nation’s second-largest school system.

March 22, 2023

According to the Associated Press (AP), tens of thousands of workers in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) began a three-day strike on Tuesday, shutting down the largest school system in the United States.

Members of Local 99 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents roughly 30,000 school support staff, including custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, teachers’ aides, and special education assistants, hit the picket lines before dawn, demanding better wages and increased staffing. United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), the union representing the teachers, counselors, and other educational staff, pledged solidarity with the striking workers.

Speaking at a news conference, U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), a 2024 U.S. Senate candidate, said the strikers were earning “poverty wages.”

“People with some of the most important responsibilities in our schools should not have to live in poverty,” Schiff said.

 “We’re very understaffed,” Danielle Murray, a special education assistant, told KABC-TV. “The custodial staff is a ghost crew, so the schools are dirty. They’re doing the best they can.”

Alberto M. Carvalho, superintendent of the school district, reportedly accused the union of refusing to negotiate, saying that Monday was a lost “golden opportunity.”

“I believe this strike could have been avoided. But it cannot be avoided without individuals actually speaking to one another,” he said.

“We want to be clear that we are not in negotiations with LAUSD,” Local 99 said in a statement. “We continue to be engaged in the impasse process with the state.”

According to the union, district support staffers earn an average of about US$25,000 per year, and many live in poverty because of low pay or limited work hours, while dealing with inflation and LA County’s high housing costs. The union is asking for a 30% raise for its workers.

Caravalho rebutted in an interview with KTTV-TV that the district has offered a wage increase totaling more than 20% over a multiyear period, along with a 3% bonus and what he called a “massive expansion of health care benefits.”

According to AP, Marlee Ostrow, a 67-year-old instructional aide who supports the strike, was hired almost 20 years ago at $11.75 an hour. Today, she makes about $16 an hour.

“There’s not even anybody applying because you can make more money starting at Burger King,” Ostrow said. “A lot of people really want to help kids, and they shouldn’t be penalized for wanting that to be their life’s work.”


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