LOS ANGELES (AP) — Tens of thousands of workers in the Los Angeles Unified School District will strike for three days next week over stalled contract talks and teachers will join them, likely shutting down the nation's second-largest school system, union leaders announced Wednesday.
The strike was set to begin Tuesday. It was announced at a rally by the Service Employees International Union, which represents about 30,000 teachers' aides, bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers, and other support staff.
United Teachers Los Angeles, the union representing 35,000 teachers, counselors, and other staff, expressed solidarity.
“Educators will be joining our union siblings on the picket lines,” a UTLA tweet said.
Teachers waged a six-day strike in 2019 over pay and contract issues but schools remained open.
This time, schools would likely close and there wouldn't be any access to virtual learning, Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho said in an email to parents on Monday.
“We would simply have no way of ensuring a safe and secure environment where teaching can take place,” Carvalho said.
On Wednesday, Carvalho accused the union of refusing to negotiate and said that he was prepared to meet “day and night” to prevent a strike, which he said would harm students already struggling to regain academic ground lost when classrooms were closed and they were forced to learn remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At a news conference, he said averting a strike "will avoid keeping kids home, will avoid kids from going hungry in our community without access to the food they get in school.”
“We are calling on them to come to the table for staff and students, right now,” he said in a later statement.
The SEIU says district support staffers earn, on average, about $25,000 per year and many live in poverty because of low pay or limited work hours while struggling with inflation and the high cost of housing in LA County. The union is asking for a 30% raise. Teachers want a 20% pay hike over two years.
The district has made what it called a historic offer to the SEIU of a $15 wage increase, some of it retroactive, and 9% in retention bonuses.
The strike has wide support among union members. Thousands of people, many dressed in red, rallied Wednesday outside City Hall, holding signs, chanting, and garnering support in the hours before the strike date was announced.
The district has more than 500,000 students. It serves Los Angeles and all or part of 25 other cities and unincorporated county areas.
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.