We all agree that workers deserve living wages. Yes, anybody who works shouldn’t live in poverty.
Nevertheless, in light of the large-scale disruption that LAUSD students had in the last three years due to the pandemic that kept them home without learning. Labor leaders representing workers at LAUSD should use their imagination and explore other venues to advance their members’ interests before they disrupt our students’ education.
SEIU Local 99 and its 30,000 workers reached an impasse with LAUSD. Bus drivers, custodians, food service workers, instructional aids, teacher assistants, and after-school program workers went on strike Tuesday. UTLA and its 35,000 teachers are participating in a solidarity strike and joined SEIU Local 99. Schools can’t operate without teachers and these essential workers; hence they had to be closed. SEIU demands a 30% pay hike and wants $2 per hour for the lowest-paid workers.
On Friday, LAUSD made an offer of 19%, presenting a 19% ongoing increase over three years. It was reported on Monday that the district had increased its offer to a generous “23%, plus a 3% cash-in-hand bonus, a $ 20-an-hour minimum wage, and full health care benefits for those working at least four hours a day.” The district has offered 77% of what is being demanded, which was insufficient for SEIU to avert the strike so students wouldn’t miss class instructions.
Negotiations demand that parties understand that this process involves give and take and that parties negotiating must be able to make concessions. Local 99 is unwilling to return to the table of negotiations unless they get all they want. This approach elicits a dangerous self-assured hubris that might not advance the interest of workers.
Our student’s education should never be sacrificed or factored into any strategy to help unionized workers to be lifted out of poverty. Fighting poverty by sacrificing poor Latino and Black students’ education at Los Angeles Unified District makes no sense.
LAUSD, the nation’s second-largest school district, where 73% of its students are Latinos living in poverty, according to the district’s website. The recent Covid-19 Pandemic immensely affected students; many reports and articles have been published showing the learning loss that occurred among our poor students. Many students were not just academically affected by the pandemic. They were also emotionally affected, as many lost family members that might have included their families.
During the pandemic, students started receiving classes online, and many struggled with access to technology and the poverty of their families. Many students never signed up for these classes and wasted months staying home doing nothing.
Furthermore, it was widely reported that half of all LAUSD students were constantly absent in 2022. Experts tell us that children by age 9 must be able to read and write to avoid falling behind academically. With all the challenges facing families with children at this age, It is not hard to extrapolate that many of our children are woefully behind—clearly, a crisis of biblical proportions.
Test scores for assessment last year showed that nearly seven in ten students could not meet the state minimum standards, and 1 in 2 students didn’t meet the English standards. When these scores are compared to the year before the pandemic, the performance drop should alarm those in charge or care for the education of our children.
It is worse for low-income Black and Latino students – “84% of Black and 79% of Latino and low-income students” couldn’t meet this state math standard.
To the LAUSD’s credit, leaders in the district have tried to address the learning loss by increasing and extending the school day or adding additional days to the school year. But, such efforts were astonishingly rejected by UTLA, even though the district was willing to pay fully, including other benefits to those who wanted to help students. Many parents were disturbed and disappointed to see UTLA reject additional student learning.
In addition, the undue burden imposed on parents in these three days is vast. A three-day strike would affect the poorest resident in Los Angeles. Many parents are utterly confused and angry because LAUSD provides not only education for their children but also childcare and food. Schools are where many poor students eat breakfast and lunch, and many are even given food for dinner. Shutting down campuses is devastating for these needy students.
On Monday, many students brought home packages for school work, not just for the three but ten days. Who will help these children with their homework? A good 80% of the students at LAUSD live in poverty, and their parents have to work long hours, leaving them no time to help their children.
Students have no defenders. There is no secret that children’s parents at the district are usually ignored in the decisions that will affect their children. The fight over resources and LAUSD’s direction is consistent among the UTLA, Local 99, Charter Schools, and the district leaders. Children’s parents are usually expunged from these vital conversations.
Parents need to unite and engage with a deeper level of thinking about how they can become relevant and effectively influence decisions that benefit their children’s education.
This strike’s guiding principle or theme is to attack poverty in Los Angeles. It is true most of the workers represented by Local 99, like other millions of workers in LA, can’t afford to live in this city. Many SEIU members truly live in poverty, which begs the question of why their union spends lavishly on politicians. They should demand more of these politicians who they send to the legislature in Sacramento. Roughly 90% of LAUSD’s funding comes from Sacramento. UTLA and Local 99 spend a lot of money on politics. Both unions should demand the state send more money to the district. So LAUSD can pay living wages to workers and better salaries to its teachers.
Living in Los Angeles is not easy, and surely workers represented by Local 99 need help. They are not alone; many people living in Los Angeles need help. But we can not be oblivious to the district’s budget constraints. The pandemic funding for the district is no longer coming or is about to stop. And many parents with school-age children are moving to other cities or states, and the decline in enrollment will profoundly affect state funding. Back in 2000, the district had almost 750,000 students. Today’s enrollment is just a little more than 400,000 students.
So much for LA being a bastion of liberalism! Come on, progressives, where is the outrage? Speak up for the poor, struggling students. This strike disproportionally impacts poor Latino students. Seven out of ten students at LAUSD are Latino students who live in poverty. And in California, 40% of the population are Latinos. There is no future in this city or this state, for that matter, if Latinos don’t get educated.
Thank you for reading
Lecturer of Politics at LACCD