On Tuesday, school staff represented by Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 99, in the Los Angeles school district launched a three-day strike. In solidarity, the teachers, organized by the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), have refused to cross the picket line. This puts the entire school district out of commission, with 30,000 school staff and 35,000 teachers on strike, sending students home and shutting down business as usual.
What is the strike about? First and foremost, extremely low pay. For example, school bus drivers make $25,000 a year, which is very difficult to live on in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S., especially during this time of skyrocketing living costs. On top of this, according to school staff, the strike is about respect. Staff have received threats and harassment by the district. Grievances for unfair labor practices have been filed. Staffing is chronically too low, and workers aren’t paid during holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, spring break and more.
The union is asking for a 30% raise over four years, a $2 per hour raise, more work hours, health benefits, and an end to the practice of the district hiring private, low-paid contractors. It might seem strange, striking for more hours, but school staff are routinely exploited, working four or five hours a day, making insufficient wages but also unable to fit another job around the demands of their schedule.
The teachers, and their union, have rightly joined the struggle. Often, school districts pit one section of the workforce against the other, like forcing concessions on school staff to pay for minor raises for teachers. Of course, no one gets anything unless they threaten to strike or actually go on strike, and the power of the strike depends on staff and teachers being united.
Whether three days is enough to scare the district, we shall see. But either way, we stand with the school staff of the Los Angeles school district. It is a shame and an insult to be paid so little, receive no health care, and suffer harassment and threats from management. The workers are right to strike, and the teachers are right to support them!