Los Angeles school workers end strike, vote on new contract

By Bill Arth
April 10, 2023

LOS ANGELES — The day after ending a massive March 21-23 strike, Service Employees International Union Local 99 announced that a tentative settlement had been reached with the Los Angeles Unified School District. The contract will be presented to the membership for a vote.

Thousands of public school workers and teachers celebrated the completion of their militant strike with a rally in Los Angeles State Historic Park in Chinatown. Spirits were high as both SEIU Local 99, which includes 30,000 bus drivers, cafeteria workers, janitors, and other school workers; and United Teachers Los Angeles, the 35,000-member teachers union, prepared to continue contract negotiations with the district. Schools attended by more than 400,000 students were closed during the strike.

Strikers picketed schools and bus yards every morning. Daily midday mass rallies were held — on Tuesday, outside Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters downtown; on Wednesday, at five district offices; and on Thursday, the big rally to culminate the strike. A downpour of rain and a tornado the first two days of the strike failed to dampen spirits.

The strike was called, Local 99 explained, after “our bargaining team has been in contract negotiations with LAUSD since April 2021. The district has essentially rejected all of our proposals and made no significant improvement to our wages and hours. On December 12, 2022, our bargaining team declared an impasse.”

“However, the district has continued to harass and threaten workers for participating in union activities. In February, an overwhelming 96% voted to authorize our bargaining team to call for a strike if necessary.”

Local 99 members earned an average salary of $25,000 a year under the old contract, which expired July 1, 2020. The settlement would raise the minimum wage to $22.52 an hour, an average annual salary of $33,000. A series of retroactive pay increases would increase wages 15% on ratification, and another 15% next Jan. 1. The deal would provide for additional hours of work and for health benefits for part-time employees who work four or more hours a day, including coverage for their dependents.

Negotiations between the school district and the United Teachers Los Angeles continue. The union is seeking a 20% raise over two years, starting retroactively with the 2022-23 school year.

“This strike shows the growing resistance by workers to the deteriorating conditions the bosses are imposing on us,” Laura Garza, Socialist Workers Party member and rail worker, told strikers at the rallies. “The Los Angeles Times and other voices for the ruling class try to convince us that these workers were offered a better contract because of the intervention of Mayor Karen Bass. No. Any gains are the result of relying on their own strength, their unity in the strike.”

“Unions are essential. It’s not just about this, but about everybody,” Edelyn Ortiz, a 37-year-old substitute teacher at Sheridan Street Elementary, told the Militant. “Fighting with dignity is what is going to help our community.”