LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Unified School District has responded to the vote by thousands of cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians, special education assistants and other school workers to authorize their bargaining committee to call a strike if necessary, saying it is taking steps to line up replacements.
Between March 12 and April 13, thousands of non-instruction school employees cast their votes at more than 700 LAUSD sites including schools, special education centers and early education centers. About 94 percent of the membership voted to support a strike, officials with Service Employees International Union Local 99 said April 14.
The results mean that if there is no significant movement in negotiations with the district by April 30, SEIU Local 99’s bargaining team will be prepared to begin the strike process, according to union officials.
In a statement, the LAUSD praised the Local 99 members, saying that “they are partners with L.A. Unified in keeping our students safe and giving them the robust educational services they need and deserve.”
But it added that it has taken steps to line up replacement workers if a strike materializes.
“As we face the grim possibility of 29,000 employees going on strike, the district has taken immediate steps to procure services from vendors to ensure that student operations remain seamless at our schools,” it said.
The district said it can only agree to employment terms “that take into account our long-term fiscal health.”
It said it had offered the union a 2 percent raise retroactive to July 1, 2017, and other terms and said talks could resume “if our economic situation improves.”
“In order to remain fiscally responsible to our students, employees and community members, the district has not accepted the union’s proposal of 12 or 13 percent ongoing raises over three years.”
The district statement added: “We encourage SEIU local 99 to continue working with us to find solutions that take into account our economic realities, as well as our students’ needs. We will continue our fight to get everyone the pay and benefits they deserve.”
Members of SEIU Local 99 have been in contract negotiations with the district since March 2017 but no significant movement has been made on key issues, including wages and staffing shortages, according to local union President Conrado Guerrero.
Union members have pushed for increased staffing of custodians, accusing the district of “knowingly” operating at substandard staffing levels for custodians, resulting in dirty schools and locked bathrooms. By the district’s own admission, schools are staffed at 50 percent of the necessary levels, Guerrero said.
“The dedicated school workers who transport students safely to school, feed them, support their classroom learning and keep their classrooms and playgrounds clean have made our voices heard,” Guerrero said. “We are tired of this school district dismissing and devaluing our work. We are an essential part of student learning and if it takes a strike for LAUSD to understand that, we’re ready to take action.”
Wages have also been a key bargaining issue. During the strike vote, district officials increased their proposed wage hike from 2 to 3 percent including a pledge of extra work and/or training starting in the 2018-19 school year.
“It’s a minor increase to the district’s 2 percent offer, which had been on the table for nearly a year,” said Max Arias, the union’s executive director. “It’s a step in the right direction but it’s not enough. A majority of school workers are also parents of LAUSD students. The district’s insistence on low wage, part-time work has a direct impact on students as their parents struggle to pay rent and put food on the table.”
SEIU Local 99 has filed charges against the district with the Public Employment Relations Board to protest alleged threats and harassment of union members. This includes allegedly denying access to some strike voting sites in addition to charges previously filed for bad faith bargaining, according to union officials.