Demonstrations, protests mark first day of LA school strike
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Hundreds of thousands of students are set to stay home today in Los Angeles as the school district halted normal operations.
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
The union representing bus drivers, maintenance workers and other support staff is launching a three-day strike, and the teachers are also staying out of school.
INSKEEP: NPR's Sequoia Carrillo is in Los Angeles. Good morning.
SEQUOIA CARRILLO, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: Who's affected?
CARRILLO: So families are really going to be affected on all sides today. The Los Angeles Unified School District is the second-biggest school district in the country, with over a thousand schools in operation and more than 400,000 students, the majority of whom live at or below the poverty line and depend on schools for far more than just classroom instruction.
CARRILLO: So today, even though schools will be closed, community members and the district know the stakes for many of the students. And they're working with the city and local volunteers to get students things like bagged meals, as well as get child care for working parents. On top of that, there are, of course, scheduled demonstrations all over the city. I'm heading out this morning to the bus depot where members of the Service Employees International Union are starting a picket line at 4:30 a.m. That's when school buses normally start their day. But today, they're not leaving the depot. There are also rallies at schools and at the district's headquarters as well.
INSKEEP: Well, what are the workers who will be on those picket lines demanding?
CARRILLO: So to understand how we got here, we need to understand who is striking, I think. The SEIU represents the support staff of schools, so people like custodians, special education assistants, campus aides, even, like, playground supervisors. These are critical roles that we often don't think about in the operation of a school. But their average salary at LAUSD is about $25,000 per year, with many working part-time. Bottom line, they're asking for a 30% pay raise over four years, and the district has agreed to a 23% raise over a five-year period with bonuses. But the union hasn't responded to the district's last three offers.
INSKEEP: Well, why would they not?
CARRILLO: They haven't exactly said why, but it's been a very long and drawn-out fight, and they've suggested in the past that they feel disrespected. But on the other side of this negotiation is the current superintendent, Alberto Carvalho. He's been negotiating with the union for more than a year, all the way up until late last night. I spoke with Carvalho yesterday evening, and he said he wasn't leaving the office anytime soon. He's hoping that sometime over the next three days he can come to an agreement with the union and hopefully shorten this strike.
INSKEEP: Although, even if he does shorten the strike, doesn't he also have a problem with LA's teachers?
CARRILLO: I wouldn't call it a problem quite yet, but the teachers did have a strike back in 2019 that lasted much longer than this one. It was about six days, and this was prior to Carvalho's tenure. But they're now negotiating a new contract, and they're asking for similar wage increases as the SEIU. But so far, the district hasn't given much, citing concerns over their finances.
INSKEEP: Well, what is the financial condition?
CARRILLO: When I spoke with Carvalho, he said LAUSD is existing in a bit of a financial bubble right now. They've had this COVID relief money - federal dollars - for a while, but enrollment is decreasing year over year. It's also hard to keep teachers' positions filled. And Carvalho says he's protecting the longevity of the district with these negotiations. Union leaders say they're protecting their members who, in many cases, are living below the poverty line, despite working clearly important jobs. And unfortunately, stuck in the middle are the students and parents who'll be scrambling today.
INSKEEP: NPR's Sequoia Carrillo in Los Angeles, thanks so much.
CARRILLO: Thank you.
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