Teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District joined bus drivers, cafeteria workers and paraprofessionals in a three-day “sympathy strike,” resulting in more than 65,000 personnel absences and bringing classes to a halt from March 21 to 23.
The strike culminated in a months-long build-up of labor tensions in the nation’s second largest school district. Members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 99 had been negotiating with the district, demanding a 30% salary increase plus $2 more per hour for the lowest paid employees.
“Personally, the strike added extra stress to my job,” Hanan Casas, school psychologist at Apperson Street Elementary and Pinewood Avenue Elementary in LAUSD, said. “The strike required us to not go to work for three days while everyone was on strike for SEIU Local 99.”
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 99 is a group composed of teachers’ assistants, special education assistants, bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers and others working in schools, colleges and administrative offices.
“It affected us as a whole because most staff members did not report to work or were forced to under pressure,” Casas said.
“We lost pay for those days, but it also showed that we can come together in unity to fight for better pay for staff,” she said. “The district still has a long way to go in regards to better pay for certificated staff like me. We are underpaid while the cost of living continues to rise in California.”
Educators throughout California sympathize with the ongoing struggles LAUSD employees are facing.
“Though I am not an employee of the Los Angeles Unified School District as a former teacher, I realize the extreme pressure public school teachers are under to deliver an education to today’s youth,” Jackie Allen, University of La Verne associate professor of education, said.
“Since COVID-19, their challenges have increased by having to catch students up academically on what they missed and handling the influence of mental health problems on students’ behavior in and out of the classroom,” Allen said.
Teachers and other school-related employees have always had certain obstacles to overcome, and since the pandemic, those obstacles have become even more challenging to face.
“I emphasize that teachers have a very difficult job and are not always rewarded monetarily or with the proper support and appreciation of what they do for today’s youth,” Allen said. “All of us as professional educators need to work together to educate students.”
Many schools have adopted a Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS), which acts as a framework in order to provide targeted support to struggling students. The goal of MTSS is to intervene early so students have enough time to catch up with their peers.
“As educators, we are effectively collaborating to assist all students,” Allen said. “But we still need financial and positive reinforcement, and more support services such as nurses, school counselors and school psychologists in order to educate California’s children and youth.”
After the recent strike, future educators and school staff are paying close attention to the negotiations being made as they are preparing themselves to enter a world of rewarding yet historically undervalued careers.
“I chose education because I have a passion for it and for children, but it is a very undervalued job,” Malynda Wanis, sophomore educational studies major, said.
“These teachers are not only taking a minimum of seven hours out of their day to guide the children through life but are also spending at least two hours a day on top of that to get things in order for the children,” Wanis said. “That is not to mention the other staff that goes out of their way to keep everything else in order or to assist the teachers.”
Careers in education are constantly changing, and the adaptations being made by school employees are frequently overlooked by society.
“When it comes to better wages, working conditions and staffing, I believe the education system as a whole needs to be better overviewed,” Wanis said. “Without the primary education system, we as a community, state and country would not have many educated individuals who would provide our economy with the wealth needed for it to survive.”
Better working conditions are essential for school employees. If their needs are not being met, it is quite difficult for the needs of the students to be fulfilled.
“When it comes to working conditions, I believe that staff members should have a better say in not only their classroom requirements but also in the school as a whole,” Wanis said.
The strike, which has now been settled, resulted in a 7% ongoing wage increase effective July 1. A $2 per hour increase for all employees will be effective Jan. 1, 2024.
“Future investments need to be made to provide equitable funding to every single student and equitable compensation benefits to every single employee,” Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of LAUSD, said.
Carvalho has served as superintendent of LAUSD since February 2022.
“The state of California needs to recognize that the city of Los Angeles cannot be left behind because it is quite literally the economic engine of our state,” Carvalho said. “We have a long road ahead of us, but hope to make steady progress.”
For the latest updates on the strike and ongoing negotiations, visit the LAUSD information website.
Rebecca Keeler can be reached at email@example.com.