Credit: UTLA / Facebook
LAUSD union workers picket outside schools across the district on March 21, 2023.

Nearly 800 schools across Los Angeles Unified closed Tuesday as essential workers across the sprawling district headed out to the picket lines Tuesday for the first of what is threatened to be a three-day strike. Efforts to reach a last-minute contract settlement failed so far, according to both sides. 

Families were scrambling for alternative day care and learning centers as nearly 30,000 SEIU Local 99 special education assistants, bus drivers and other essential workers began the strike to protest alleged unfair practices by the district. The 35,000-member union United Teachers Los Angeles joined Service Employees International Union Local 99 in walking out in solidarity. 

Los Angeles Unified Superintendent Alberto Carvalho urged families to prepare. At a news conference Monday evening, he said he felt “compelled to be very honest with the community and, at this point, remove hope in terms of possibly avoiding the strike tomorrow and formally announce that all schools across LAUSD will be closed tomorrow.”

“We’ve run out of time,” Carvalho said as he sought to blame the union for not keeping talks going. “I made myself available alongside my team for hours today hoping that we would, in fact, be able to have a conversation. For a whole host of reasons, some of which I do not understand, we were never in the same room or even in the same building.”

He declared that schools would be closed for regular instruction, although administrators would be available at all campuses to guide families. Dozens of school sites and other community facilities will be open for child care and homework, he added.

Still, Carvalho urged union representatives to return to the bargaining table to continue negotiations in an effort  now to shorten the strike.

Tensions boiled over Monday afternoon when SEIU Local 99 refused to resume negotiations, claiming the district broke confidentiality by sharing such efforts with the media.

“This is yet another example of the school district’s continued disrespect of school workers,” SEIU Local 99 Executive Director Max Arias said in a news release. “We are ready to strike.” 

According to SEIU Local 99, union members have dealt with alleged intimidation and harassment from the district during bargaining. In a statement, the union said it will continue to engage in the formal impasse process with the state, which involves mediation and fact-finding and is an important step before a potentially longer strike could take place legally.

The strike leaves 420,000 students from across the nation’s second-largest public school system without the usual child care, nutrition and academic services they receive at school. To help families, LAUSD as well as both the city and county of L.A. will offer child care at select schools, parks and nature centers on a first- come, first-served basis. Carvalho said the district is expecting sites to reach capacity and requested that parents have alternative locations in mind. 

The district will also set up 24 food distribution sites through the Department of Recreation and Parks, the Boys and Girls Club and other locations for families to pick up six meals to cover breakfast and lunch for the next three days. Sites will be open Tuesday from 7:30-10:30 a.m.

The last strike at Los Angeles Unified was a six-day strike by United Teachers Los Angeles in 2019.

LAUSD’s request for an injunction was rejected by the California Public Employment Relations Board on Sunday, but the district is also awaiting a separate decision from that board on LAUSD’s unfair practice charge against the union.The district argues the strike is illegal because the union is walking out for reasons outside of what they say. SEIU Local 99 said it is walking out to protest alleged unfair labor practices, while the district claims it is to pressure negotiations. 

“One day out of school is one day too many,” Carvalho said. “Schools are not the places where they simply get education. They do get great education as a result of great teaching, but they also get food and health care support and social emotional support and mental health support. They happen to be the safest places in our community for kids.” 

SEIU Local 99 has been negotiating its contract with the district since 2020 — the year its contract expired — though negotiations were halted for a period amid the pandemic’s peak. UTLA, which has decided not to cross the picket line, is also in negotiations with the district over its contract.

The labor union is pushing the district to provide health benefits to all part-time employees and for a salary increase of 30% for its workers who on average earn $25,000 a year. LAUSD’s latest proposal included an offer for a 23% raise and a 3% cash-in-hand bonus.

UTLA is asking for a 20% raise from the district.

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