Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Alberto Carvalho issued another plea today for the Service Employees International Union Local 99 to return to the bargaining table in hopes of averting a three-day strike set to begin Tuesday.
“We should not be depriving our students of an opportunity to learn,” Carvalho said in a statement Monday morning. “With hours to go, I continue to appeal to union leadership to return to negotiations. We can find a solution that dignifies our workforce and avoids an unnecessary shutdown of schools while protecting the long-term viability of the school system.”
The union, however, continued to dig in Monday, vowing to stick to its plans for a three-day walkout of roughly 30,000 service workers, including cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians, special education assistants and other workers. The district’s powerful teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, has vowed to honor the picket lines, adding another 30,000 employees to the work stoppage.
Officials said that magnitude of a strike will force the shutdown of campuses in the nation’s second-largest school district.
“Despite LAUSD’s misleading statements in the media and threats against workers who are exercising their right to take action, our movement is only growing stronger,” SEIU Local 99 Executive Director Max Arias said in a statement Monday. “Teachers, students and parents in the district are standing with school workers and their right to take action — free from fear — to bargain for better wages and increased staffing in our schools.”
The union plans to begin picketing at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Van Nuys Bus Yard, 16200 Roscoe Blvd. Union leaders already have scheduled a news conference for 7 a.m. Wednesday at Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, 701 S. Catalina St., followed by a 1 p.m. rally at LAUSD headquarters, 333 S. Beaudry Ave.
The LAUSD on Friday filed a legal challenge with the state Public Employment Relations Board seeking an injunction that would halt the strike, claiming the union’s proposed strike was illegal. Over the weekend, however, the PERB denied the district’s request for injunctive relief because it did not find “the extraordinary remedy of seeking injunctive relief to be met at this juncture,” according to the LAUSD. But, according to the district, the PERB did direct its Office of General Counsel to expedite the processing of the district’s underlying unfair practice charge against SEIU Local 99, which alleged that the union and its members were engaging in an unlawful three-day strike.
The union repeatedly has accused the district of engaging in unfair labor practices, saying union members were subjected to harassment and intimidation tactics during an earlier strike-authorization vote and as the possible walkout neared.
There was some back-and-forth between the district and union over the weekend but with no results.
“Even as the school district filed charges, they presented SEIU Local 99 with an updated contract offer,” the union said Saturday, referencing the PERB complaint filed the day prior. “Members of our bargaining team had not even had time to review it or consult with other members before the district shared it publicly with the media. We will not negotiate publicly,” adding, “LAUSD does not seem to be acting in good faith.”
Carvalho said LAUSD officials were prepared to talk and even potentially sweeten their most recent compensation and benefits offer, but union officials said they are waiting for a state mediator to schedule new talks.
Meanwhile, the district held a series of 90-minute Zoom webinars on Sunday and Monday for students and their families to learn more about what is happening. Information on the sessions is available at twitter.com/LASchools.
Carvalho said the union is “simply refusing to negotiate,” calling it “deeply surprising and disappointing that there is an unwillingness to do so.”
The anticipated three-day walkout will be the first major labor disruption for the district since UTLA teachers went on strike for six days in 2019. That dispute ended in part to intervention by then-Mayor Eric Garcetti, who helped spur labor talks at City Hall and broker a deal between the district and union.
Zach Seidl, a spokesman for Mayor Karen Bass, said Friday that Bass is “closely monitoring the situation and is engaged with all parties involved.”
District officials said last week that Carvalho had made the SEIU Local 99 “one of the strongest offers ever proposed by a Los Angeles Unified superintendent.”
According to the district, the offer included a 5% wage increase retroactive to July 2021, another 5% increase retroactive to July 2022 and another 5% increase effective July 2023, along with a 4% bonus in 2022-23 and a 5% bonus in 2023-24.
On Wednesday, Carvalho said at a news conference “that 15% plus 10% does not represent the end of the road, we have more resources and have indicated that to the union.”
The union, which says many of its workers are earning “poverty wages” of $25,000 per year, has been pushing for a 30% pay raise.
SEIU workers have been working without a contract since June 2020. The union declared an impasse in negotiations in December, leading to the appointment of a state mediator.
In addition to salary demands, union officials have also alleged staffing shortages caused by an “over-reliance on a low-wage, part-time workforce.”
The unions have repeatedly said the district is sitting on a projected $4.9 billion reserve fund for 2022-23 that should be invested in workers and efforts to improve education through reduced class sizes and full staffing of all campuses. Carvalho has disputed that figure, saying an independent auditor that reviewed the district’s books found no such surplus.
The district on Friday announced the creation of a website at achieve.lausd.net/schoolupdates which will “provide resources for families during the work stoppage period” from Tuesday through Thursday. According to the district, the site has information on “learning activities, Grab & Go food locations, tutoring services, enrichment activities and cultural opportunities across Los Angeles and Los Angeles County park locations that will provide free youth programs.”
City News Service contributed to this report.