LOS ANGELES – The nation's second-largest school district shut its doors to 422,000 students Tuesday after more than 60,000 Los Angeles Unified School District employees – including school staff and teachers – made good on their promise to strike in response to a breakdown in contract negotiations.
District workers gathered outside schools and a bus yard with signs early Tuesday reading "RESPECT US!" and umbrellas, as another atmospheric river dumped rain on Los Angeles.
“This is what solidarity looks like right here,” said Max Arias, executive director of SEIU Local 99, which represents the striking bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria employees, campus security and teaching assistants. Passing drivers blasted horns in support as he spoke at a news conference outside Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools. Arias said LAUSD failed to bargain in good faith, instead subjecting workers to “stress and harassment.”
“If LAUSD truly values us and he’s serious about reaching an agreement, they must show workers the respect they deserve," Arias said, referring to school Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. "We have had enough of empty promises.”
The strike, which is expected to last as long as three days, left parents scrambling to find child care, meals and substitute learning arrangements. Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass announced on Twitter that the city would provide students with "safe places and meals so students are cared for and parents can keep working."
Nearly 85% of Los Angeles children live in poverty, according to the Los Angeles Trust for Children's Health.
It was unclear if any negotiations between the union and the district took place Tuesday, but by the end of the day, LAUSD confirmed schools would be closed again Wednesday.
What happens to the kids? Los Angeles teachers, staff strike March 21-23
What's behind the strike
SEIU Local 99, which represents roughly 30,000 school support staff, demanded LAUSD provide them with a 30% raise and $2 per hour equity wage increase. The United Teachers of Los Angeles, which represents about 35,000 teachers, said its educators would not cross picket lines and joined the strike in solidarity.
"We will stand united, 65,000 members strong, until LAUSD and Superintendent Alberto Carvalho give respect to the education workers that keep our schools running and our children safe," said UTLA President Cecily Myart-Cruz at Tuesday's news conference. "These are the co-workers that are the lowest paid workers in our schools, and we cannot stand idly by as we consistently see them disrespected and mistreated by the district. So let's be clear, the onus is on the district."
Hours later, the protests continued to hum: Thousands of people rallied outside the Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters in downtown Los Angeles in support of a wage increase.
A band played music as rallygoers chanted and cheered in the closed-off streets. Makeshift booths offered hot food and drinks for people in attendance.
Ben Savage, the “Boy Meets World” actor who recently announced he’s running for Congress, made his way to the rally “in solidarity and express support” of workers on strike.
“I think everyone should be working together for a livable wage,” Savage told USA TODAY.
The unions plan to carry on with their protests Wednesday, with United Teachers Los Angeles outlining its plans on Twitter, triggering another day of school closures.
Workers expressed dismay over being out of work, but defended their decision to strike.
"As a building engineer I was called an essential worker by LAUSD through the pandemic," said Conrado Guerrero, president of SEIU Local 99 and a building engineer with LAUSD. "I showed up every day. I installed air filters in classrooms and other facilities. My work was essential for student health. But it seems LAUSD has forgotten that. Going on strike is not an easy decision, many of us are parents of LAUSD students. We understand the sacrifice. Many of us live paycheck to paycheck. We know losing pay is difficult, but LAUSD has pushed us to a strike."
Guerrero added: "Enough of the disrespect. We refuse to be invisible, we refuse to be silent, we are ready to fight, and we are proud to be joined by teachers."
Overworked, underpaid? The toll of burnout is contributing to teacher shortages nationwide
'We have to start paying them a decent wage'
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who represents Hollywood, said he supports the workers' strike and believes that the imposition on parents, as a parent himself whose kids went through public schools, is unfortunately necessary.
"The median income of our bus drivers and our cafeteria workers and our school aides is $25,000 a year. Who can live on $25,000 a year? Those are poverty wages. People with some of the most important responsibilities in our schools should not have to live in poverty,” said Schiff, speaking alongside Arias.
Good news is wages are rising: Unfortunately, that may also be bad news. Here's why.
Suburban evictions: The face of American poverty is changing
Schiff noted that renting a one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles costs about $1,700 a month, leaving only a few thousand more for a living expenses for these workers – many of whom are parents, too.
“We have to start paying them a decent wage,” Schiff said. “For those looking after our kids, they deserve to work in dignity and live in dignity."
Which L.A. neighborhoods are safest? See the latest trends in the LA crime rates
After nearly a year of contract negotiations, the impasse between the district and its workers, however, remained firm. Carvalho said the district has put a 23% recurring raise and a 3% cash bonus on the table "in recognition of the contributions of our support personnel."
But last month, SEIU Local 99 members voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike.
The last time the district dealt with contentious wage negotiations was in 2019, when LAUSD teachers went on a six-day strike, their first in decades. District negotiators and the labor union ultimately agreed on a 6% raise for teachers, additional nurses and school counselors, and changes to how the school system handles class sizes.
Los Angeles teachers' strike: Here's what you need to know
Carvalho, after pleading with the union to continue negotiations Monday and avoid closing schools, was largely silent as the strike began. He praised volunteers helping to distribute meals in the rain to students who may rely on schools for much of their food.
Thank you to our employees and volunteers who braved the rain to distribute students' meals to families at Grab & Go sites throughout the city. Three days' worth of meals will be provided today. To find your nearest Grab & Go location, please visit https://t.co/ekR3tpQxBY. pic.twitter.com/upK3sGd8kY
— Alberto M. Carvalho (@LAUSDSup) March 21, 2023
Contributing: Sandy Hooper
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: LAUSD workers go on strike leading hundreds of schools to shut down