As a sea of red poured out from the Civic Center/Grand Park metro station, chants of “UT-LA” echoed through the tall ceilings. Many whipped out wooden noisemakers or horns, some with megaphones equipped with siren functions.
Some witnesses knew what it was about; others were appalled by the noise. Most were curious. Many asked, “what’s with the red?” as if the UTLA and SEIU T-shirts, posters, hats, and pins weren’t large enough signs.
Their collective demands were simple: livable wages to combat inflation impacts, better-staffed schools, and better treatment and working conditions. UTLA separately strives for smaller class sizes and programs to benefit low-income families and underrepresented students.
UTLA held the three-day strike in solidarity with SEIU Local 99 which represents the striking workers. LAUSD’s service workers called for more full-time positions.
According to SEIU Local 99, the average annual salary for members working in LAUSD is about $25,000. In Los Angeles County, the Department of Housing and Community Development considers $66,750 per year to be low income.
This rally led up to whether or not a strike would commence the following week, but a tentative agreement was reached March 24 between LAUSD and the union. The tentative agreement would raise the average teacher salary to $106,000 in a 21% wage increase over about three years, according to the L.A. Times.
It had been four years since the last LAUSD teachers strike in 2019. According to a 2020 L.A. Times story looking back on the 2019 strike a year later, most teachers and parents “would be hard-pressed to see defining differences in classrooms and schools.”
It’s been years with little to no significant change — at least regarding employment contracts and wages.
Many teachers planned assignments ahead of time leading up to the strike, supplying students with optional work on top of typical lessons if they were up for it. This experience was vastly different for students who remember the strike in 2019. Then, students still had to go to school, where the new version of school was sitting in an auditorium for seven hours watching bad children’s movies.
The last strike ended in some improvements in class sizes and on-campus nurses. Wages — not as much, but it’s a start. To understand how bad the conditions are for workers in LAUSD, note that many have reported being homeless at one point while working for the district, and many more have been at risk.
“It’s a bad look for Carvalho because, you know, there’s community support,” said Emily Reichenstein, an art teacher at John Marshall High School. “No one is talking about greedy bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and custodians.”
By the end of this strike, many were exhausted from picketing for three days straight. Carvalho’s stubbornness created a wave of uncertainty, adding to the stress. No one knew what he would do, how post-strike negotiations would go, or how he’ll handle the three days all schools were closed. The situation was serious, especially with Mayor Bass getting involved.
“I hope that Carvalho is not stupid enough to shut down the city twice with a second strike,” said another teacher, who wished to remain anonymous.
Luckily, Local 99 workers have successfully negotiated with LAUSD, increasing their wages and halting the chances of another strike soon.
Hopefully, their actions will inspire more districts and working bodies to unionize. Every successful demonstration from a union pushes up one step closer to putting the work in the hands of the workers, not the owners. It’s up to the workers to collectively end corrupted corporate power.