LA schools closed for 2nd day as service workers walk picket lines

Workers are demanding a 30% pay raise.

March 22, 2023, 12:34 PM

For the second straight day, classes were canceled for more than 400,000 Los Angeles public school students as tens of thousands of service workers, backed by the powerful teachers union, continued to strike.

Custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, special education assistants and other members of the Service Employees International Union Local 99 walked picket lines Wednesday morning with no new negotiations with the Los Angeles Unified School District publicly announced. The 30,000 members of the service employees union are demanding higher wages and better working conditions, and are planning to stay off the job for a third day on Thursday.

The labor action is the first major work stoppage for the nation's second largest school district since a 2019 strike by the 35,000 members of the United Teachers Los Angeles Union.

PHOTO: Los Angeles public school support staff and teachers, rally outside of the school district headquarters on the first day of a three day strike, Mar. 21, 2023, in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles public school support staff and teachers, rally outside of the school district headquarters on the first day of a three day strike, Mar. 21, 2023, in Los Angeles.
Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

The teachers union is honoring the service union's picket lines, forcing the school district to shut down schools.

Cecily Myart-Cruz, president of the UTLA, said her members are supporting the service employees' demands to show "respect to the education workers that keep our schools working and our children safe."

"We stand in solidarity with them, recognizing that their struggles are our struggles ... that the only way we achieve our goals is by standing collectively together," Myart-Cruz said.

The service workers union has called for a three-day strike.

PHOTO: Los Angeles school workers protest in front of Buchanan Street Elementary School during the first day of a walkout over contract negotiations that closes the country's second largest school system in Los Angeles. Mar. 21, 2023.
Los Angeles school workers protest in front of Buchanan Street Elementary School during the first day of a walkout over contract negotiations that closes the country's second largest school system in Los Angeles. Mar. 21, 2023.
Aude Guerrucci/Reuters

Hopes of avoiding a strike were dashed on Monday when a new effort to jumpstart labor negotiations broke down at the last minute, officials said.

"Despite our invitation for a transparent, honest conversation that perhaps would result in a meaningful solution that would avoid a strike, we were never able to be in the same room or at the same table to address these issues," LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said in a statement.

Carvalho said he and the district's negotiating team waited for hours on Monday to resume labor talks, but never got a response from the service workers union.

"We've run out of time," said Carvalho, adding that he is still hopeful that negotiations will resume soon.

Max Arias, executive director of the service workers union, said the union had agreed to "enter a confidential mediation process" with the LAUSD.

"Unfortunately, LAUSD broke that confidentiality by sharing it with the media before our bargaining team, which makes all decisions, had a chance to discuss how to proceed," Arias said. "This is yet another example of the school district's continued disrespect of school workers. We are ready to strike."

Conrado Guerrero, president of the local service workers' union and a building engineer for the school district, said Tuesday that the "LAUSD has pushed us to a strike."

“I showed up every day, I installed air filters in classrooms and other facilities. My work was essential for student health," Guerrero told ABC News. "But it seems LAUSD has forgotten that.”

PHOTO: Los Angeles Unified School District workers and supporters picket outside Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools on the first day of a strike over a new contract on Mar. 21, 2023 in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Unified School District workers and supporters picket outside Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools on the first day of a strike over a new contract on Mar. 21, 2023 in Los Angeles.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

The service employees have been working without a contract since June 2020.

"We're not getting an equitable wage to feed families, have housing," Fatima Grayson, a striking special education assistant, told ABC Los Angeles station KABC. "A lot of people that do work for LAUSD have to work two jobs."

In December 2022, the union declared an impasse in negotiations, prompting the appointment of a state mediator.

The service workers' union said many of its members earn "poverty wages'' of $25,000 per year and are demanding a 30% pay hike, with an additional pay increase for the lowest-paid workers.

PHOTO: Los Angeles school workers protest in front of LAUSD headquarters during the first day of a walkout over contract negotiations that closes the country's second largest school system in Los Angeles, Mar. 21, 2023.
Los Angeles school workers protest in front of LAUSD headquarters during the first day of a walkout over contract negotiations that closes the country's second largest school system in Los Angeles, Mar. 21, 2023.
Aude Guerrucci/Reuters

Carvalho said on Monday that the school district had upped its most recent offer to a 23% wage increase, along with a 3% "cash-in-hand bonus.''

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said the city is helping parents cope with the strike by making recreation centers available to students. All city public libraries will also remain open and the Los Angeles Zoo is offering free admission to students during the strike.

Many parents said they are standing behind the service workers, including some who plan to walk the picket line with the striking employees.

PHOTO: A sign reads 'School Resumes Friday March 24' as Los Angeles Unified School District workers and supporters picket outside Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools on the first day of a strike over a new contract on March 21, 2023 in Los Angeles.
A sign reads 'School Resumes Friday March 24' as Los Angeles Unified School District workers and supporters picket outside Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools on the first day of a strike over a new contract on March 21, 2023 in Los Angeles.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

"We have some of our most underpaid workers doing some of the most challenging jobs on our campuses," parent Jenna Schwartz told KABC. "The majority aren't receiving health care. They've been negotiating for years to no avail."

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Los Angeles, joined service workers on the picket line Tuesday, saying he is supporting "all those who take such good care of our kids who are there in school."

"I stand here with people of Los Angeles who believe that those that have these important responsibilities should not have to live in poverty," Schiff said. "The median income of our bus drivers and our cafeteria workers that are school age is $25,000 a year. Those are poverty wages. People with some of the most important responsibilities in our schools should not have to live in poverty."

ABC News' Flor Tolentino contributed to this report.

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