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Los Angeles schools closed as first day of district workers strike begins

Last-ditch efforts to avert the three-day strike by service workers in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest in the country, were unsuccessful.

A planned three-day strike by service workers employed by the country's second-largest public school district was underway Tuesday, officials said.

The demonstrations began at a bus yard. Workers holding signs that read "We keep schools safe, Respect Us!" joined picket lines in the rain, demanding better pay and additional staffing.

District Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho had said at a news conference Monday evening that all schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District would be closed Tuesday. LAUSD has an enrollment of around 420,000 students.

Service Employees International Union Local 99 — which represents cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians and special education assistants — said its members were striking because negotiations that might have led to a solution were nonexistent. The union represents more than 30,000 district workers.

"We are on strike to protest the disrespect against workers who are speaking out for more staffing for student services. We are on strike to protest the threats against workers who have spoken out for better livelihoods. We are on strike because we have had enough," Local 99 President Conrado Guerrero, a school district building engineer, said at a news conference Tuesday.

"We refuse to be invisible. We refuse to be silenced. ... United we will win," he said.

United Teachers Los Angeles, which says it represents around 35,000 educators, joined in a solidarity strike.

"The public schools and respect we deserve are within reach," UTLA tweeted Tuesday. "It will be our collective action and solidarity that makes our visions for a better future into a reality in the present. Rain or shine, see you on the picket line!"

Local 99 blamed the day’s negotiation failure on the district. Its executive director, Max Arias, said district officials broke an agreement to hold confidential mediation over a potential contract, stopping progress.

Arias said Local 99 was not negotiating with the district Monday night but rather was seeking resolution through a state-run process that seeks to unlock impasses.

“We were never in the same room or even in the same building,” Carvalho said Monday of the failed negotiations. “Today we had a golden opportunity that just didn’t happen.”

Local 99 indicated last week that the district had a long way to go amid calls for higher wages. It has said its members make an average salary of $25,000 a year, more than $10,000 below the state poverty line for a family of four.

Mathematics teacher Robert Jong demonstrates in solidarity as Los Angeles Unified School District workers and supporters picket on the first day of a strike over a new contract on March 21, 2023 in Los Angeles.
Mathematics teacher Robert Jong joins the picket line on the first day of a strike in Los Angeles.Mario Tama / Getty Images

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said those are "poverty wages."

"Who can live on $25,000 a year?" he said at Tuesday's news conference. "We ask LA Unified to hear our voices. Hear our voices, pay our colleagues a livable wage, help them earn a decent income."

The union's workers are aiming for a 30% wage increase, Local 99 spokesperson Blanca Gallegos said in a statement Thursday. Members authorized a strike in February.

Carvalho said the district's latest offer is a total of a 23% raise, some of it retroactive to 2021, and a 3% bonus, as well as increased access to health care benefits. Some of the proposed wage increases would be paid next school year and for the 2024-25 school year, according to district documents.

"This is a historic offer — and it’s historic because it recognizes that these are the employees who have made huge sacrifices," Carvalho said at a school board meeting Tuesday.

He said that the employees' frustration "has been brewing, not just for a couple of years, but probably for decades," and that the district remains ready to negotiate with Local 99.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said in a statement Sunday that the city would pitch in during the strike to help distribute student lunches at 21 “Grab & Go” locations. The Los Angeles Zoo said admission would be free to LAUSD students through the end of the three-day action.