Los Angeles education workers strike, canceling school for 420,000 students
Mar 22, 2023
California [US], March 22: Some 30,000 education workers backed by the teachers' union walked off the job for a three-day strike in Los Angeles on Tuesday, canceling school for nearly half a million students at the second-largest school district in the United States.
The Service Employees International Union Local 99 seeks to increase what it calls poverty wages averaging $25,000 per year for many of their members including school bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers and classroom assistants.
Thousands of protesters gathered for a rally in the rain outside the Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters, vowing to continue their pickets the next two days.
"We love our students, and we're here for the students. But if we can't properly take care of our kids, how can we properly come here and work as well?" Lynneier Boyd-Peterson, a striking bus driver, told KTLA 5 television news.
She was one of the striking workers who marched in pouring rain under umbrellas early on Tuesday carrying signs reading "Respect Us!" at a school bus yard.
The service workers are backed by the 35,000 members of the teachers' union United Teachers Los Angeles, which refused to cross their picket line.
The work stoppage is the latest in a series of job actions by educators across the United States who have complained of burnout and low wages, leading to a teacher shortage in many parts of the country.
The L.A. strike follows a six-day teachers' strike in 2019 and the coronavirus pandemic that closed in-classroom instruction for more than a year in 2020 and 2021.
L.A. schools superintendent Alberto Carvalho has acknowledged workers have been underpaid for years and said he was committed to reaching a deal.
The strike has disrupted class for 420,000 students, many of whom also depend on schools for meals, counseling and other social services. The city opened dozens of meal and safe-place sites on Tuesday for students.
"I will make sure the wellbeing of L.A. students always comes first as I continue to work with all parties to reach an agreement to reopen the schools and guarantee fair treatment of all LAUSD workers," Mayor Karen Bass said in a statement.
The union, which said 96% of its membership had authorized the strike, is demanding a 30% salary increase plus an additional $2 per hour for the lowest-paid workers, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Carvalho told reporters on Monday the district was offering a 23% raise plus a 3% bonus and that "there are still additional resources to put on the table."
Education experts have been warning of staff burnout for years. Those concerns grew when the coronavirus pandemic put additional stress on teachers, many of whom left the profession for better pay in the private sector, where their skills and education were valued.
"What's happening in L.A. is going to happen in all the major cities if we don't start doing something collectively as a nation," said Jamie Sears, a former third-grade teacher who now teaches a master class for educators.
Source: Fijian Broadcasting Corporation