A strike shutting down Los Angeles Unified School District for three days next week was announced on Wednesday.
The expected walkout of as many as 65,000 district teachers and staff beginning Tuesday, March 21, would be the district’s biggest disruption since a six-day teachers’ strike of 2019.
With other large school districts in California such as Fresno Unified now in contract negotiations, a question looms: Is the LA strike a sign of things to come?
Unlike prior Fresno Unified negotiations that led to an early signing of a three-year contract in 2019, this round of negotiations is not faring as well, leading to the Fresno Teachers Association’s recent decision to speak publicly about classroom and campus problems to the School Board at district meetings.
Union leaders in Los Angeles say that their utmost concern is improving learning conditions, and FTA officials and members have struck the same chord in their negotiations.
A Battle Over Wages
But big raises are also driving the stalemate in LA Unified, which serves more than 600,000 students and is the second-largest in the nation.
The Service Employees International Union represents about 30,000 teachers’ aides, bus drivers, custodians, and other support staff. It seeks a 30% raise.
SEIU’s justification for the huge boost is that its members — many of whom work part-time and live in poverty — are struggling with inflation and high housing costs. The union says LA Unified support staff average about $25,000 annually.
United Teachers Los Angeles represents 35,000 teachers and other educators. They want a 20% pay hike over two years. District data shows that credentialed teachers start at $56,107 a year and earn up to $98,176 annually. Bilingual instructors are eligible for an additional $3,000 a year.
The District’s Proposal
The district has offered SEIU members a $15 wage increase, some of it retroactive, and 9% in retention bonuses.
The offer to teachers is a 5% raise retroactive to July 2021, a 5% ongoing raise, a 4% bonus for this year, and both a 5% raise and a 5% bonus next school year. By offering a total of 9% in bonuses as opposed to permanent salary hikes, the district is trying to protect its budget against a downturn in the economy.
On Wednesday, LA Unified Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho Carvalho accused the union of refusing to negotiate and said that he was prepared to meet “day and night” to prevent a strike.
“We are calling on them to come to the table for staff and students, right now,” he said.
Teachers, Staff Working Without Contracts
SEIU members have been working without a contract since June 2020 and the contract for teachers expired in June 2022. The unions decided last week to stop accepting extensions to their contracts.
LA Unified teachers waged a six-day strike in 2019 over pay and contract issues but schools remained open.
How Public Education Is Financed in California
The state has basic responsibility for financing schools, largely on a per-pupil basis. In 1988, voters passed Proposition 98 to give schools a guaranteed share of state revenues.
Last year, the California state budget had a nearly $100 billion surplus. But this year it is dealing with a deficit of at least $22.5 billion. And, because California’s income tax revenue depends on the business success of its wealthiest residents, the deficit will grow if the state slides into a recession — as many economists predict.
(Associated Press contributed to this article.)