L.A. School Service Staff Earning “Poverty Wages” Strike Over Unfair Labor Practices

Without a contract, the 30,000 striking workers have faced a median wage of just $25,000—whatRep. Adam Schill calls ”poverty” wages.

Nearly three years into working without a contract, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians, special education assistants, and other service employees of the Los Angeles school system have embarked on a 3-day strike in protest of unfair labor practices and harassment of employees who have participated in union activities.

Without a contract, the 30,000 striking workers—represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 99—have faced a median wage of just $25,000, according to SEIU99.  Since April 2022, the union has been engaged in an effort to increase wages across the board, particularly for those making the lowest wages.

Speaking at a rally on Monday, Rep. Adam Schiff of Burbank said the service workers should not be earning “poverty” wages. 

“What SEIU 99 is asking for their workers is reasonable,” Schiff said. “$36,000 a year, even that is a struggle. No one should have to live like that.”

The Monday rally, which began before at a Van Nuys bus yard, expanded across the school district, which remained closed for all 400,000 students as support staff engaged in the strike and members of the teaching union (UTLA) honored the picket line in solidarity.

A representative for SEIU, who spoke to LA

Mag on behalf of the striking workers, stressed that this is not an ongoing strike, but a pointed statement against the unfair labor practices.

RELATED: Cecily Myart-Cruz’s Hostile Takeover of L.A.’s Public Schools

After the strike, the workers will “continue to negotiate in our contract,” the rep says. “They’re not striking over contract negotiations. They’re striking over unfair labor practice complaints that they filed with the state, dozens of complaints over workers who’ve been harassed by the district or threatened to lose their jobs over them working with the union.”

Despite the rally, union negotiators and LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho could not agree and stave off the direct action and subsequent school closing. Private mediation efforts fell apart, said SEIU union Executive Director Max Arias in a statement, as LAUSD “broke confidentiality” by speaking with media before the union bargaining team.

“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,” Arias said in the statement. 

On Monday, Carvalho said the district upped their offer to a 23% increase, along with a 3% “cash-in-hand bonus,” but SEIU99 wants a 30% raise, along with guarantees of higher pay for the lowest-paid employees. As columnist Jon Regardie pointed out on Monday in LAMag, Carvalho’s concern that the district will go bankrupt does not seem to line up with the fact that per-student spending has been up since the Covid-19 pandemic.

The mayor’s office is “closely monitoring the situation” but is as-of-yet uninvolved, said Zach Seidl, a spokesman for Karen Bass, which leaves LAUSD and the unions alone to negotiate or endure the strike.

In the immediate moment, LAUSD has created a website for parents and students with information on “learning activities, Grab & Go food locations, tutoring services, enrichment activities, and cultural opportunities across Los Angeles and Los Angeles County park locations that will provide free youth programs.” Additionally, the Los Angeles Zoo and The Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County will be offering students free admission during the strike. Those families that rely on schools for food can also navigate to CafeLA on the LAUSD update website for information on hot meals.

Nonetheless, these temporary bandages will not answer the question of a labor deal or safe workplace practices for the services union, nor will they make things any easier for the striking workers, said the SEIU representative.

“It’s important to understand, a lot of these workers actually have their own kids in LAUSD schools,” the rep tells LAMag. “So it’s not that they easily came to this decision to strike, because they also have to figure out what to do with their kids during this. But it’s reached a point where they can’t accept harassment.”

City News Service contributed to this report

Stay on top of the latest in L.A. news, food, and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.