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LAUSD strike stretches into third and final day with no deal in place

2023-03-23

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Bus drivers, teachers' aides and other Los Angeles Unified School District support staff were back on the picket lines Thursday, the final day of a planned three-day strike. The day culminated in a massive rally at Los Angeles State Historic Park.

Tens of thousands of union members and their supporters descended on the park early Thursday afternoon in a boisterous display of solidarity.

There was no word on whether any progress was being made in talks between the union -- which represents roughly 30,000 LAUSD service workers -- and the district. Mayor Karen Bass has been facilitating discussions between the two sides, but it was unclear if the talks were materializing into actual contract negotiations.

The roughly 30,000 workers represented by SEIU Local 99 walked off the job Tuesday for a three-day strike amid stalled labor talks focused primarily on the union's demand for a 30% salary boost.

"It's not fair. We're working so hard for the families, for the kids, for the community and the wages - it's too low," said Blanca Pezqueda, a cafeteria worker and union member. "We need help, we need a raise."

WATCH: LA school workers rally on final day of strike

Thousands of service workers backed by teachers continued to strike against the Los Angeles Unified School District on Thursday, the final day of a planned three-day walkout.

The workers -- including cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians, special education assistants and others -- were joined in solidarity by about 30,000 members of the United Teachers Los Angeles union, which is engaged in labor talks of its own with the district, seeking a 20% pay hike for its members.

An SEIU union statement Wednesday night said the strike will conclude Thursday.

"SEIU Local 99 school workers plan to return to schools Friday, March 24," the statement added.

The end of the three-day walkout will enable some 400,000 students to return to classes after missing three straight days.

Negotiations will continue, with Bass' office saying the mayor "will continue to work privately with all parties to reach an agreement to reopen the schools and guarantee fair treatment of all LAUSD workers."

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LA Unified announced 124,596 meals were distributed to students Tuesday amid the three-day strike and school closures.

No other specifics were offered. However, Max Arias, president of SEIU Local 99, issued a statement Wednesday supporting the mayor's involvement.

"We are grateful that the mayor has stepped in to provide leadership in an effort to find a path out of our current impasse," Arias said. "Education workers have always been eager to negotiate as long as we are treated with respect and bargained with fairly, and with the mayor's leadership we believe that is possible."

The LAUSD issued a statement that said district officials "have been in conversation with SEIU Local 99 leaders with the assistance and support of Mayor Bass."

"We continue to do everything possible to reach an agreement that honors the hard work of our employees, corrects historic inequities, maintains the financial stability of the district and brings students back to the classroom," according to the district. "We are hopeful these talks continue and look forward to updating our school community on a resolution."

There was sea of school workers at Thursday's rally, with SEIU members wearing purple and UTLA members wearing red.

Bernice Young was there dressed in purple. She works at Esther Collins Early Education Center and says she earns $18.86.

"And I've been here for a very long time," Collins said. Twenty-three years, she said.

Because she works 40 hours a week, she feels she has it better than most.

"We have a lot of our people that work three hours. What can you do with three hours?" Collins said.

The SEIU contract expired in June 2020.

Workers who haven't seen a raise since then have essentially taken a pay cut, as inflation has climbed by more than 16%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The district has offered a combined and retroactive 23% raise, falling short of the 30% requested.

Neither side has changed positions since.

"That means we're going to have to go back," Collins said. "And we're going have to do this all over again, because we can't stop."

The district argues the strike disrupts student learning.

Espi Polley, a special education teacher in Boyle Heights, says that is the short-term cost and the long-term consequence should school workers walk out of the classroom for good.

"Students are always getting the short-end of the stick," Polley said. "It's in the best interest for the district to provide competitive wages, so we can have fully staffed schools, and this won't happen again."

City News Service contributed to this report.

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