UTLA and SEIU Local 99 hold mass rally and call for 3-day strike
Los Angeles, CA – On March 15, the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) and SEIU Local 99, which represents cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians, teacher assistants and other education workers, held a massive rally at Grand Park in Downtown Los Angeles. The action culminated with the announcement that UTLA and SEIU Local 99 would go on a joint three-day strike, the first in the two unions’ history, from March 21-23.
Enthusiastic delegations of union members arrived from all over the LA area carrying their schools’ banners or posters. Members of Centro CSO, a longtime ally of UTLA, joined the mass rally in solidarity.
Both unions, which together represent roughly 65,000 workers in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), have been in contract negotiations with the district for close to a year and are fighting for their members to be able to survive as inflation rises in Los Angeles. The district, led by superintendent Alberto Carvalho, have only responded with counter offers that show a disregard for the wellbeing of LAUSD’s workers, students and schools. He has also sent out voice messages and emails to parents discouraging the union plans.
In February, 96% of SEIU Local 99’s members in LAUSD voted to authorize a strike. Many of its members are part-timers who make little more than minimum wage and must take on other work in order to support their families. The average salary of LAUSD school workers is $25,000 a year. Local 99 is demanding a 30% raise and $2 per hour equity wage adjustment as well as more full-time hours, staffing, and health benefits.
UTLA – made up of roughly 35,000 teachers, psychiatric social workers and counselors – is demanding a pay increase of 10% for each of the following two years. Currently, two out of three LAUSD teachers can no longer afford to live where they teach, and many educators have considered leaving the profession. The force of Wednesday’s Grand Park rally has already made LAUSD move toward UTLA’s proposals, as the district offered a 14% salary increase over three years during the latest negotiations. UTLA countered by maintaining its position of 20% over two years.
UTLA also wants the district to meet the demands of its Beyond Recovery platform, which addresses the needs of students, their families and underfunded schools. These demands include smaller class sizes, increased support for special education programs, fully staffed schools, more green spaces on campuses, and equitable funding. Superintendent Carvalho, rather than use the district’s $5 billion in reserves to transform public education in LA, has largely ignored the Beyond Recovery platform.
In order to weaken the power of the strike, Carvalho has said that LAUSD will likely close next week while teachers and other LAUSD workers picket. However, UTLA and SEIU Local 99’s members, supported by students and parents, will not be deterred by Carvalho’s word and intend to show the superintendent – who only recently moved to the district from Miami – the power of organized labor in Los Angeles.