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L.A. school district and union reach deal after strike closes classrooms

Los Angeles Unified School District support staff, teachers and supporters rally outside LAUSD headquarters on Tuesday. (Jill Connelly/Bloomberg News)
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A union representing nearly 30,000 Los Angeles school workers reached a tentative agreement with the Los Angeles Unified School District on Friday, after a three-day strike this week that kept 420,000 students in the United States’ second-largest school district out of the classroom.

The deal “addresses historical pay inequities,” “significantly” increases salaries, expands health-care benefits for part-time employees and invests in professional development for workers, LAUSD said in a statement.

Service Employees International Union Local 99 — whose members include bus drivers, custodians and cafeteria workers — said the agreement “addresses our key demands and sets us on a clear pathway to improving our livelihoods and securing the staffing we need to improve student services.” Members still need to vote on the agreement, the union noted.

SEIU Local 99’s requests included a 30 percent wage increase, plus an extra $2 per hour for the lowest-paid school support workers, more full-time hours and increased staffing. The union had declared negotiations at an “impasse” in December.

Friday’s agreement includes multiyear wage increases that add up to about 20 percent over time; a $1,000 bonus for current employees who worked in 2020; and a $2 per hour raise for all employees effective Jan. 1, 2024. Health care will also be provided to all employees who work at least four hours per day.

LAUSD superintendent Alberto Carvalho called it a “historic” agreement, “the likes of which has never been negotiated across the state or across the country.”

Max Arias, executive director of SEIU Local 99, said at a news conference that the deal will set “new standards,” and noted that the pay increases add up to reach the union’s goal. “Because of our members’ low wages, a $2 an hour increase is the equivalent of about 10 percent of their salaries on average. That is a 30 percent total increase,” he said.

This week’s strike was sparked by what the union described as “unfair labor practices” by the district during contract talks, including alleged harassment and surveillance. Carvalho said earlier this week that an investigation of the claims is underway and accused the union of using them to create “a strike opportunity.”

United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents more than 35,000 educators, encouraged members to join the strike, leaving schools with little choice but to close from Tuesday to Thursday.

UTLA responded to Friday’s news on Twitter, writing, “our solidarity makes us unstoppable.”

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School workers at LAUSD are overwhelmingly women and people of color, and make an average of $25,000 year, according to union data. “This week the eyes of our entire nation were on the cooks, custodians and classroom aides who make education possible in Los Angeles,” Arias, of SEIU Local 99, said in a news release, calling the organization “stronger than ever.”

Without SEIU Local 99 Members, “there is no additional support in classrooms and there are no meals prepared for students, no campuses cleaned and no buses driven,” Sarina Sande, Executive Director of Educators for Excellence-Los Angeles, said in response to the news.

Carvalho said in a statement that the district “wanted to honor and elevate the dignity of our workforce and correct well-known, decades-long inequities impacting the lowest-wage earners.”

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, who helped facilitate negotiations, called for continued work to address the city’s high cost of living and to support more funding for L.A. public schools, which she called “the most powerful determinant of our city’s future.”

Laura Meckler contributed to this report.