I was on the Los Angeles picket line. Here’s why our strike will benefit students and workers
I don’t blame our bosses for being surprised.
For decades Los Angeles Unified School District’s workforce has been divided into eight different unions. Our contracts expire at different times and labor law often ties our hands, so LAUSD plays us off against each other, to the detriment of all employees.
Service Employees International Union Local 99 represents 30,000 LAUSD bus drivers, teaching assistants, maintenance workers and cafeteria staff. Recently SEIU announced a three-day “Unfair Practice Charge” strike based on its well-founded accusations that LAUSD’s mistreatment of SEIU workers violates California labor law.
LAUSD probably expected that with teachers coming in to work, along with personnel brought in from LAUSD headquarters on an emergency basis, they could roll right over SEIU, as school districts often do to campus workers in similar situations.
Except this week, Los Angeles teachers said “No.”
Over half of LAUSD’s SEIU workers have children in LAUSD. Many of our students have aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins and older siblings who work at LAUSD.
There is only one way UTLA educators could keep faith with our students, their families and the workers whose labor enables us to educate our students — by honoring SEIU’s picket lines.
Our sympathy strike (aka “solidarity strike”) is very much in line with the traditions of American labor. American labor unions were built through labor solidarity, and in recent decades, unions have been undermined because union leaders have abjured sympathy strikes.
On this issue, recently one publication often critical of teachers unions unwittingly paid UTLA a complement:
“State law allows one bargaining unit to go on a sympathy strike with another union, but
Bradley Marianno, an assistant education professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said it’s ‘highly unusual,’ for a teachers union to join a walkout with non-teaching employees.
“‘They may issue statements of support, but to join in strike is a different, and relatively rare, matter.’”
SEIU has historically been a much weaker union than UTLA. Their membership is divided into many different job classifications, they are often on campus at different times, and their heavily minority, immigrant and female membership is at a much lower socioeconomic level.
Despite this, SEIU’s performance this week was remarkably strong, reflecting the raw anger of its members over low wages and LAUSD abuses, which were well-documented by the national media this week.
UTLA has its own contract battle with LAUSD, but its robust showing this week also reflects our sympathy for our SEIU colleagues and the fact that UTLA has become a strong, disciplined labor union.
LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has found himself increasingly isolated, as many key players in Los Angeles education, including Austin Beutner, LAUSD superintendent from 2018 to 2021, school board Member Kelly Gonez, who served as president of the LAUSD Board of Education from 2020 until earlier this year, and LAUSD school board President Jackie Goldberg have all made statements undermining Carvalho in his battle against SEIU.
Earlier this week dozens of CA Legislators signed a letter backing SEIU, telling Carvalho to “resolve this.”
As in 2019, many of LAUSD’s own school administrators made it clear their hearts aren’t in this battle either, with some walking early morning picket lines with us or bringing us coffee and donuts.
Carvalho, humbled by the firestorm he foolishly ignited, has pivoted, shifting from stonewalling and even mocking SEIU workers towards a humble, “I feel your pain” posture.
Some of our critics claim our strike hurts our students, yet meeting SEIU demands will improve our schools.
To pick one example among many, each day special education students are deprived of two hours of their special education assistants’ time. Why?
LAUSD keeps these paraprofessionals at only six hours a day, so they won’t be considered full-time employees. This petty chiseling at the expense of our students typifies the way LAUSD mistreats its SEIU employees.
Other critics assert that parents have turned against teachers unions. These people are kidding themselves.
Polls show LAUSD parents support educators. A Loyola Marymount University poll taken earlier this year asked “LAUSD teachers requested an increase in salary. If labor negotiations cannot reach an agreement, would you support or oppose LAUSD teachers going on strike to meet their demands?”
Among those living within LAUSD’s boundaries, 76% supported teachers. Among those aged 18-29 — people who most likely attended LAUSD schools not long ago — 88% supported teachers.
Moreover, throughout this week of picket lines and massive rallies, the public showed they were behind us with continual honking horns, raised fists and shouts of approval.
As we walk to and from rallies in our union colors, we’ve had truck drivers and firefighters walk up to us, pat us on the back, and tell us, “Good luck.”
Leaving one rally a construction worker walked up to me, shook my hand, and said, “Give ’em hell!”