Workers in the Los Angeles school district, the second largest in the US, say wages are not enough to cover the high cost of living.
Tens of thousands of education workers in the United States’ second-largest school district, the Los Angeles Unified School District, have quit their jobs to demand higher wages and staffing levels.
The three-day strike began Tuesday with demonstrations staged by members of Local 99 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents about 30,000 teaching assistants, special education assistants, bus drivers, custodians and other support staff.
Workers joined picket lines in stormy weather in the early morning, with some signs reading, “We keep schools safe, Respect Us!”
They were joined by supportive teachers who also work in the district, which has more than 500,000 students from Los Angeles, California, and all or some of 25 other cities and nearby areas.
“We are very understaffed,” Danielle Murray, a special education assistant, told local news channel KABC-TV. “Prison staff are a ghost crew, so the schools are filthy. They are trying their best.”
We are often the first #LAUSD employees who see students early in the morning when we pick them up and the last ones who see them when we drop them off.
WE ARE ESSENTIAL AND DEMAND RESPECT. #LAUSDStrike #UnionsForAll #United4LASschools
— SEIU Local 99 (@SEIULocal99) March 21, 2023
The strike is the latest example of increased labor activity in the US, where workers across industries have turned to unions with renewed interest as they seek better wages, benefits and working conditions.
U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff, who is running to represent California in the U.S. Senate, expressed support for the education workers’ strike, stating that workers “with some of the most important responsibilities in our schools should not live in poverty.”
Contract negotiations between the union and the school district have stalled, and Superintendent Alberto M Carvalho said the union had refused to negotiate and missed a “golden opportunity” to move forward.
“I think this strike could have been avoided. But it cannot be avoided without individuals actually talking to each other,” he said.
Carvalho said the district has offered workers a pay increase of more than 20 percent over a multi-year period, as well as a 3 percent bonus and an increase in health care benefits.
Workers are calling for a 30 percent wage increase and the union said it was in contact with state authorities over allegations that the district had interfered with workers’ right to organize.
The union has also said workers are often paid little more than minimum wage, making it difficult to attract new people to the profession.
Marlee Ostrow, a 67-year-old teaching assistant who said she supports the strike, said her wages have risen from $11.75 to $16 in nearly two decades of work, not nearly enough in a state known for high costs of livelihood.
“No one is even signing up because you can make more money by starting at Burger King,” she told the Associated Press news agency.
“A lot of people really want to help kids, and they shouldn’t be punished for wanting this to be their life’s work.”