Late-breaking talks failed to prevent a walkout Tuesday that will shut down Los Angeles public schools and cause massive disruption to the nation’s second-largest school system.
There was some hope of averting the strike based on the formal resumption Monday afternoon of discussions between the school district and the union leading the strike, Service Employees International Union Local 99.
But hopes of a last-minute breakthrough were dashed by a statement from Local 99 on Monday afternoon.
“The strike will begin at 4:30 a.m. on Tuesday, March 21, and will continue through Thursday, March 23,” according to the statement.
Previously, union leaders had, in effect, ruled out pre-strike talks, saying they were waiting for the next formal step in the bargaining process, setting up an investigative panel that would take some time.
But the union was also willing to resume talks if the Los Angeles Unified School District agreed to meet its demand for a 30% wage increase plus $2 more per hour for the lowest-paid workers.
District officials did not go to the extreme of the wage demand, but they increased their offer considerably in a series of moves over several days. By Monday morning, the offer was up, according to the Los Angeles superintendent of schools. Alberto Carvalho, more than 20% accumulated in several years, a 3% bonus and a “massive” expansion of health coverage to include more members of that union and their families.
The district estimates the cost of expanding benefits at about $20,000 per year per employee.
Union executive director Max Arias said the union’s main goal has been to increase the average annual salary of members from $25,000 to $36,000. The union is also seeking expanded hours and more full-time positions.
The union, which represents some of the lowest-paid workers in the district, includes bus drivers, teacher aides, special education aides, security aides, janitors and food service workers.
United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents teachers, nurses, therapists, counselors and librarians, urged its members to strike in support of Local 99. UTLA is also negotiating a contract and had lengthy bargaining sessions Friday and Saturday.
Arias characterized Monday’s discussions with the district as part of the mediation and investigative process overseen by state labor regulators. While that process could lead to an agreement, it would not prevent the three-day strike, which is about alleged misconduct by the school system that has impeded workers’ rights to engage in legally protected union-related activities.
“We want to make it clear that we are not in negotiations with LAUSD,” Arias said. “We remain engaged in the stalemate process with the state.”
The union statement noted that members had voted overwhelmingly to allow their leaders to call a strike at their discretion.
“During the strike vote and contract negotiation process, the district subjected workers to surveillance, intimidation and harassment,” the union alleged. And it is these issues that justify the three-day labor action, the union said.
Arias described Monday’s meeting as part of “a confidential mediation process with LAUSD to try to address our differences.”
“Unfortunately, LAUSD broke that confidentiality by sharing it with the media before our bargaining team, which makes all the decisions, had a chance to discuss how to proceed. This is yet another example of the school district’s continued disrespect for school workers. We are ready to attack.”
District officials have denied any wrongdoing.