LAUSD schools closed after last-minute negotiation plans with union fall flat

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Tuesday, March 21, 2023
3-day LAUSD strike to begin; all schools will be closed Tuesday
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LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said all schools will be closed Tuesday after reporting no movement in any negotiations with the union representing 30,000 service workers.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- With labor talks at a standstill and no new negotiations scheduled, Los Angeles Unified School District campuses are closed Tuesday, leaving more than 400,000 students without classes as service workers strike to demand improve wages and working conditions.

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 early Tuesday monring.

The roughly 30,000 members of the separate teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, are honoring the picket line.

LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said he had hoped on Monday to have "a transparent, honest conversation'' that might result in an agreement to stave off the planned three-day strike, but it never happened.

"Despite our invitation for a transparent, honest conversation that perhaps would result in a meaningful solution that would avoid a strike, we were never able to be in the same room or at the same table to address these issues," he said.

"We've run out of time," he continued. "I made myself available alongside my team for hours today, hoping that we would, in fact, be able to have a conversation. For a host of reasons, some of which I did not understand, we were never in the same room or even in the same building. My appeal is that as we go into tomorrow, despite the event that will take place tomorrow, that our partners decide to come into the room where we can in fact hash out an agreement, a solution that will narrow the bandwidth of this strike."

Carvalho said he was still holding out hope that some talks can be held overnight or Tuesday, potentially reaching a deal that will prevent the work stoppage from continuing for the entire three days. In the meantime, the district is offering food distribution for families on Tuesday morning, from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at designated sites. Information is available on the district's website.

There was briefly a glimmer of hope Monday afternoon that labor talks might resume and a strike potentially averted. But those hopes were quickly dashed.

"This afternoon, SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Local 99 had agreed to enter a confidential mediation process with LAUSD to try and address our differences,'' union Executive Director Max Arias said in a statement late Monday afternoon. "Unfortunately, LAUSD broke that confidentiality by sharing it with the media before our bargaining team, which makes all decisions, had a chance to discuss how to proceed. This is yet another example of the school district's continued disrespect of school workers. We are ready to strike.

"We want to be clear that we are not in negotiations with LAUSD. We continue to be engaged in the impasse process with the state.''

Carvalho had continued issuing pleas for the union to commit to 11th-hour negotiations in hopes of avoiding the walkout.

"We have some of our most underpaid workers doing some of the most challenging jobs on our campuses. The majority aren't receiving health care. They've been negotiating for years to no avail," said parent Jenna Schwartz.

The LAUSD on Friday filed a legal challenge with the state Public Employment Relations Board seeking an injunction that would halt the strike, claiming the union's proposed walkout was illegal. Over the weekend, however, the PERB denied the district's request for injunctive relief because it did not find "the extraordinary remedy of seeking injunctive relief to be met at this juncture,'' according to the LAUSD.

But, according to the district, the PERB did direct its Office of General Counsel to expedite the processing of the district's underlying unfair practice charge against SEIU Local 99, which alleged that the union and its members were engaging in an unlawful three-day strike.

The union has repeatedly accused the district of engaging in unfair labor practices, saying union members have been subjected to harassment and intimidation tactics during an earlier strike-authorization vote and as the possible walkout neared. Carvalho acknowledged those accusations, but said there is a process for investigating such claims, and "it takes time.'' He said the union was using those allegations as an "expedited way of creating a strike opportunity.''

There was some back-and-forth between the district and union over the weekend, but with no results.

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."

Meanwhile, the district held a series of 90-minute Zoom webinars on Sunday and Monday for students and their families to learn more about what is happening.

The strike will be 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.

Preparing your family for an LAUSD strike

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 say 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."

Here is the strike schedule:

Tuesday:

-- 4:30 a.m. picket lines at Van Nuys Bus Yard, 16200 Roscoe Blvd.

-- 7 a.m. news conference at Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, 701 S. Catalina St., Los Angeles;

-- 1 p.m. rally at LAUSD Headquarters, 333 South Beaudry Ave., Los Angeles.

Wednesday:

-- 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.

Thursday:

-- 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.