For tens of thousands of bus drivers, teacher’s aides, special education assistants, and numerous other low-paid essential school workers in the Los Angeles Unified School District, three words sum up how they feel: Enough is enough.
After several failed attempts to come to an agreement between the second-largest school district in the United States and Service Employees International Union Local 99 — which represents 30,000 support staff — people went on strike early Tuesday morning despite the cold rain drenching L.A.
The employees — many of whom are women and people of color — joined forces to demand increased wages and better staffing at schools — all of which they say will enable them to better serve students and boost academic achievement.
During the 2020-2021 school year, LAUSD served 519,586 students in grades TK-12 — 7.5% of whom are Black. Students come “from most of the city of Los Angeles, along with all or portions of 25 cities and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County,” according to the district.
Overall in the district, roughly 10% of students with a disability — for example, autism, speech or language impairment, or another learning disability — are Black. These students often work with special education teacher’s assistants, who often work one-on-one or in small groups with kids, or support the teacher’s instruction.
Many of these special education TAs and other school staffers earn as little as $25,000 per year — not nearly enough to live in one of the United States’ most expensive cities. In February, renting a one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles averaged $2,370 a month — or $28,440 annually.
In comparison, the starting yearly salary for an LAUSD school police officer ranges from $63,092 to $98,129.
The union is asking the district for a 30% raise and hopes to eventually raise salaries to $36,000 per year — but district officials say this is impossible.
“Under California law, we cannot drive the school system into a bankruptcy position. We cannot drive the school system into a red position,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who earns a base salary of $440,000 a year, told CNN on Monday. “If we were to acquiesce to all the demands, that is exactly where we would be, that is not legally allowable.”
However, public officials like Congressman Adam Schiff stood with those on picket lines.
“Caring for students is one of the most meaningful careers,” Schiff tweeted on Tuesday. “No one can live on $25,000. We must invest in schools and pay fair wages. It’s time to support those who support our kids.”
In addition to the staff participating in the walkout, the 35,000-member United Teachers of Los Angeles also stands in solidarity with the workers as they all advocate for fair working conditions and the resources they need to properly do their jobs.
“Education workers are overworked, underpaid, and BURNT OUT,” the union tweeted on Wednesday, along with video of teachers protesting alongside the striking
Other local unions and advocates for fair labor practices and living wages also stood in solidarity — including Starbucks workers.
“From our stores to our schools, to the state house, and beyond, the California labor movement Won’t. Back. Down!”
On Wednesday, the second day of the strike, SEIU Local 99 expressed the importance bus drivers play in students’ overall education. The union demanded the district treats its role, like many others of its nature, accordingly.
“The importance of getting students to and from school is essential to many parents who may not be able to bring their children to school themselves,” they tweeted from the Gardena Bus Yard in L.A. “WE DEMAND RESPECT.”
Others have shown their support for the movement as they drive through the city and see rows of people wearing purple and red clothing standing with one another.
“Shout out to everyone striking,” Twitter user Holapaolalola wrote. “Schools don’t function with just teachers and a principal. We need cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodian, teaching aids etc. #ilymom #LAUSDStrike.”
SEIU Local 99 tweeted on Wednesday afternoon that they were in talks with LAUSD being hosted by Karen Bass, Los Angeles’ newly-elected Black mayor.
In the meantime, the strike is scheduled to end on Thursday, with classes resuming on Friday.
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