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Editorial: A strike that closes schools is bad for Los Angeles

Contract negotiations between the union representing cafeteria workers, bus drivers and other low-wage workers in Los Angeles Unified and district officials have stalled after nearly a year, and now all 30,000 SEIU Local 99 employees are planning a three-day strike starting Tuesday. If they do, it could close all the schools because the teachers plan to leave in solidarity.

That would have disastrous consequences for students in the second-largest school district at a time when they are still struggling to overcome setbacks from the pandemic. District and union officials must ensure this does not happen.

Negotiations for a new contract began in April 2022 but broke down due to complaints from union officials about unfair labor practices, such as intimidation and surveillance of workers, and claims by LAUSD leaders that they are offering significantly lower wages. higher and better health benefits and working conditions. LAUSD proposed a pay increase of just over 15% over three years, as well as equity increases for employees making less than $30 an hour. The district also offers one-time 9% retention bonuses, likely in response to a attrition rate of about 7,000 workers each year.

But the union says that’s not enough to pay for food and housing in one of the most expensive cities in the country. The union is pushing for a 30% pay increase for its members, who are mostly part-time workers, including custodians, bus drivers, teacher assistants, after-school program workers, gardeners and special education aides, who say earning an average of $25,000. one year. About 1 in 10 Local 99 workers report being homeless while working for LAUSD, according to a survey conducted by the union last year.

It is unacceptable that LAUSD employees who keep schools running cannot afford basic necessities. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho acknowledges that the wages of these workers are low compared to the cost of living in Southern California, but says that the district’s budget, with the end of funding due to the pandemic, is tighter than they say union officials.

The budget is likely to tighten as student enrollment shrinks further. LAUSD projects an enrollment decline for the next few years, which affects the amount of state funding it receives. The district has shrunk from an all-time high of 746,831 students 20 years ago to just over 420,000 students.

Carvalho says that if the teachers leave, all schools must close because it is impossible to guarantee that students receive instruction and remain safe. However, the district plans to open 60 food distribution sites and places where up to 10,000 LAUSD students can be dropped off for supervision during strike days. In addition, the district has prepared homework packets for students to complete on strike days. That’s not ideal.

Clearly, there are budgetary concerns that affect what the district can offer workers. But keeping students in class must be the top priority, not just for district officials, but also for teachers, workers and union leaders. When LAUSD teachers walked out during a walkout in 2019, then-Mayor Eric Garcetti stepped in to help broker an agreement because he understood how important a school system that works is to students, families, the workforce, and the economy for all. this city.

We hope that both district and union officials understand the same now.