Los Angeles Unified schools, parents and students are preparing for campus closures and a major disruption to learning during a threatened three-day strike next week by its service workers union. However, many are still hoping that a contract settlement will emerge from last-minute negotiations and the strike will be averted in the 422,000-student district.
SEIU Local 99, which represents nearly 30,000 custodians, special education aides and other essential workers across the district, said it will move forward with a work stoppage Tuesday through Thursday if the district and the union do not come to an agreement within the next few days over pay and working conditions. United Teachers Los Angeles, the union representing another 35,000 teachers and other employees, is planning to join SEIU Local 99 on the picket line, closing schools for the nation’s second-largest school district.
In the meantime, families and school administrators are preparing for a major disruption to instruction. Parents worry about finding child care and activities for their youngsters and want a quick contract settlement.
“The children will lose control of their learning,” said Maria Baños in Spanish, concerned about her three children who attend LAUSD schools. “When they return, will they go back and learn what they should’ve? Either way, they fall behind.”
District messages have gone out to families, and administrators have been holding informational online and in-person meetings to spread the word to families about the potential school shutdowns. The district is putting together digital homework assignments to try to minimize any further learning losses suffered during the pandemic, although some parents seem skeptical of the value.
The potential strike has put a strain on parents like Heidy Galicia, whose four children attend two of LAUSD’s Southeast Los Angeles schools. She said she will likely take the days off from work to stay home with her children.
“I can’t leave them alone,” Galicia said in Spanish. “So I will have to stop working to stay with them. In that way, it affects me too.”
She has received calls from other parents asking her to take their children in as well for the three days. It’s an extra responsibility that she’s hesitant to take on but also one she feels she has to in order to support her community, she said.
Rocio Elorza, alongside parents from group Our Voice/Nuestra Voz, also shares those concerns as a stay-at-home mom with two children at LAUSD schools in Central L.A. She said she plans to reach out to other parents in her community to see how she can help make the strike easier on them by perhaps helping with childcare.
“We must think about how we are going to support our community,” Elorza said. She typically attends an LAUSD adult school during the day but assumes she may not have classes.
Meanwhile, LAUSD and SEIU Local 99 will continue to bargain Friday and Monday in an effort to reach an agreement. If it occurs, the upcoming strike would be the largest work stoppage to hit LAUSD schools since the six-day teachers strike in 2019.
The district decided it could not possibly keep schools open and operating during the strike. But administrators, alongside any employees who choose to attend, will be on school campuses during the three days to guide families who show up for school and field any questions.
The district also plans to deploy staff to provide support for any children who show up alone and whose parents can’t be reached right away and to deal with any disturbances that might arise. The district also plans to open about 60 sites to distribute food and provide supervision for some students. There are concerns that some students who usually receive free lunch at school may miss important nutrition.
To take pressure off school administrators, the district’s Division of Instruction and IT department are putting together uniform assignments for students by grade in the online platform Schoology that will be easily accessible, according to Associated Administrators of Los Angeles President Nery Paiz. With the experience of navigating the pandemic online, Paiz said the district is better equipped to accommodate the strike than it was during the teachers strike in 2019.
“I think that we’re doing more digitally by this go-around,” he said. “A lot of the schools, a lot of the families have the technology at home, and the students have technology. It helped to pivot, putting stuff electronically in Schoology folders for students to access meaningful work.”
Still, parents aren’t sure exactly how effective the assignments will be. Baños said she hasn’t heard from her children’s schools in South L.A. about what those assignments will look like. She’s hoping to learn more once she attends her parent conference, but she still feels her three children attending LAUSD schools will fall behind.
“For me as family, it impacts me,” Baños said. “It’s three children, and those three children will have to lose three days of learning.”
At a news conference Wednesday, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho emphasized that the district was prepared to meet with the labor union around the clock to avoid a strike and potential repercussions.
“I commit myself 24/7, day and night, along with their team and our team, to find a solution that will avoid and avert a strike, will avoid keeping kids home, will avoid kids from going hungry in our community without access to food they get in school,” he said.
The union contends the strike would be a necessary last resort after not making real progress toward boosting wages for some of the lowest-paid employees in the district.
“This strike is about respect for essential workers who have been treated as a second-class workforce by LAUSD for far too long,” SEIU Local 99 Executive Director Max Arias said in a news release Thursday. He emphasized that workers have dealt with intimidation and harassment for their union activities and that dozens of complaints alleging unfair labor practices have been filed with California Public Employment Relations Board against LAUSD.
The labor union declared an impasse in December and voted to authorize a strike vote in February following months of negotiations after its contract expired in 2020. It canceled its contract extension last week, paving the way for the strike.
The labor union is pushing for members’ salaries to increase 30% and for the district to provide health benefits to all part-time employees. The district is offering a 15% raise over three years retroactive to July 2021 as well as a 9% retention bonus over two years. The district has also offered to provide health benefits to employees who work four hours a day.
UTLA is currently negotiating with the district as well and is asking for a 20% raise over two years.
Both labor unions have been pushing the district to use its $4.9 billion in reserves to pay for the raises in new contracts. However, the district has emphasized that much of that is one-time Covid-19 relief funds that are committed to covering other costs, leaving only $140 million in flexible spending.
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