LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Tens of thousands of workers in the Los Angeles Unified School District walked off the job Tuesday over stalled labor talks, triggering a strike that will shut down all district schools for three days.
The 30,000 workers represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 99 -- including cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians, special education assistants and others -- began picketing at 4:30 a.m. The roughly 30,000 members of the powerful teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, will honor the picket line.
Thousands of those union members rallied mid-morning Tuesday in front of LAUSD headquarters in downtown Los Angeles, tying up traffic in a boisterous rally held in the rain.
"Everybody knows what the rent is and the mortgages in Los Angeles," said SEIU member Deanna Esabalidis. "We can't afford to pay our rents."
With labor talks at a standstill and no new negotiations scheduled, LAUSD campuses are expected to remain closed through Thursday for the planned strike -- leaving more than 420,000 students without classes. Staff members af the independent charter schools in the district are not on strike and those schools remain open.
LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has been calling for the SEIU to return to the bargaining table in hopes of ending the strike early.
"We have put on the table a very compelling compensation package," Carvalho said Tuesday in a CNN appearance. "What we're wating for now is for the union to come back to the table, for us to maintain and continue these negotiations."
At one point Monday there was a possibility of the two sides returning to the table. The SEIU said it had agreed to enter a confidential mediation process with the district. But union officials then said they were upset at the district for publicly disclosing plans for those talks.
Danielle Murray, a special education assistant, was among those on the picket line at the Van Nuys Bus Yard Tuesday morning. In her 28 years working for the district, she told Eyewitness News the working conditions have worsened.
"We're very understaffed... We work with a specialized population. It's a choice we make to be there. Some people are saying if you want more money, get a better job."
"Well, some of us have bachelor's degrees but we choose to work with the special population that some people don't want to work with. We want to make a difference to these students," she added.
SEIU Local 99 represents thousands of cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians, special education assistants and other workers. Many are part-time employees seeking full-time jobs.
"We're not getting an equitable wage to feed families, have housing," said Fatima Grayson, a special education assistant. "A lot of people that do work for LAUSD have to work two jobs."
The strike is the first major labor disruption for the district since UTLA teachers went on strike for six days in 2019. That dispute ended in part to intervention by then-Mayor Eric Garcetti, who helped spur labor talks at City Hall and broker a deal between the district and union.
District officials said last week that Carvalho had made the SEIU Local 99 "one of the strongest offers ever proposed by a Los Angeles Unified superintendent.''
According to the district, the offer included a 5% wage increase retroactive to July 2021, another 5% increase retroactive to July 2022 and another 5% increase effective July 2023, along with a 4% bonus in 2022-23 and a 5% bonus in 2023-24.
On Monday, Carvalho said the district sweetened the offer to a 23% increase, along with a 3% "cash-in-hand bonus.''
The union, which says many of its workers are earning "poverty wages'' of $25,000 per year, has been pushing for a 30% pay raise, with an additional boost for the lowest-paid workers.
SEIU workers have been working without a contract since June 2020. The union declared an impasse in negotiations in December, leading to the appointment of a state mediator.
In addition to salary demands, union officials have also alleged staffing shortages caused by an over-reliance on a low-wage, part-time workforce.''
Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass has announced support for LAUSD families, saying the city's Department of Recreation and Parks will offer 21 recreation centers to serve as grab-and-go locations as part of LAUSD's food distribution program. More information can be found online.
There will also be a free after school program at 30 recreation centers for elementary students. The Los Angeles Zoo will also give free admission to all students, and all libraries will be open.
To help students and parents, the district is opening 154 schools for student supervision. There are another 30 L.A. city recreational sites and 18 county sites as well as two dozen grab-and-go locations for food distribution, but for many it will still be a major challenge.
Parents at Walter Reed Middle School said they support the decision to strike, but they fear students are getting caught in the crossfire.
"Ultimately, I feel that they're probably being left behind in a battle between adults," said parent Mike Bernstein.
"I think I'm going to stay home and study with friends nearby," said Charles Freidenriech, an LAUSD sophomore. "I have an AP test so I have to study for that. I'm doing it as an extra break but the teachers are not satisfied with that."
"He's old enough that I'm not worried about him," said Charles' mother, Stephanie Freidenriech. "I'm really concerned about the other kids missing school, the younger kids and the parents who have to worry about daycare."
-- 4:30 a.m. picket lines at Gardena Bus Yard, 18421 S. Hoover St.;
-- 7 a.m. news conference and picketing at Polytechnic High School, 12431 Roscoe Blvd., Sun Valley;
-- 11 a.m. rally at LAUSD Local District Office, 2151 N. Soto St., Los Angeles.
-- 4:30 a.m. picket lines at BD Bus Yard 774 E. 17th St., Los Angeles;
-- 7 a.m. news conference and picket lines at Banneker Career Transition Center, 14024 San Pedro St., Los Angeles;
-- 1 p.m. rally at location to be determined.
City News Service contributed to this report.