Workers in Los Angeles-area school district, second-largest in the US, say wages are not enough to meet high living costs.
Tens of thousands of education workers in the second-largest school district in the United States, the Los Angeles Unified School District, have walked off the job to demand higher wages and staffing levels.
The three-day strike began on Tuesday with demonstrations set up by members of Local 99 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents about 30,000 teachers’ aids, special education assistants, bus drivers, custodians, and other support staff.
Workers joined picket lines in the early morning amid stormy weather, with some holding signs reading, “We keep schools safe, Respect Us!”
They were joined by supportive teachers who also worked in the district, which counted more than 500,000 students from Los Angeles, California, and all or part of 25 other cities and nearby areas.
“We’re very understaffed,” Danielle Murray, a special education assistant, told local news station KABC-TV. “The custodial staff is a ghost crew, so the school is dirty. They’re doing the best they can.”
We’re often the first #LAUSD employees that students see in the early morning when we pick them up and the last ones they see when we drop them off.
— SEIU Local 99 (@SEIULocal99) March 21, 2023
The strike is the latest example of increased labor activity in the US, where workers across a variety of sectors have turned to unions with renewed interest as they seek better wages, benefits and working conditions.
US Congressman Adam Schiff, who is running to represent California in the US Senate, expressed his support for the education workers’ strike, stating that workers “with some of the most important responsibilities in our schools should not have to live in poverty”.
Contract negotiations between the union and the school district have stalled out, and Superintendent Alberto M Carvalho said the union had refused to negotiate and missed out on a “golden opportunity” to make progress.
“I believe this strike could have been avoided. But it cannot be avoided without individuals actually speaking to one another,” he said.
Carvalho said the district has offered workers a wage increase of more than 20 percent over a period of several years, as well as a 3 percent bonus and an increase in healthcare benefits.
Workers are calling for a 30 percent wage increase, and the union said that it was in contact with state authorities over allegations that the district had impeded the right of workers to organize.
The union also said that workers were often paid a little more than the minimum wage, making it difficult to attract new people to the profession.
Marlee Ostrow, a 67-year-old instructional aide who said she supports the strike, said that in nearly two decades of work, her wages have increased from $11.75 to $16, not nearly enough in a state known for its high cost of living.
“There’s not even anybody applying because you can make more money starting at Burger King,” she told The Associated Press news agency.
“A lot of people really want to help kids, and they shouldn’t be penalized for wanting that to be their life’s work.”