Give ALL The Special Ed Aides Eat: LA Teachers On Strike!
Video screenshot, NBC News on YouTube

School support staff — teacher aides, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians, special education assistants, and others — began a three-day strike yesterday against the Los Angeles Unified School District, seeking higher wages. LAUSD teachers walked out in solidarity, joining the striking service workers on picket lines and at a massive demonstration at the district's headquarters despite a heavy rainstorm. The strike forced the closure of the district's more than 1,000 schools, although about 150 schools were kept open so adults could supervise kids whose parents couldn't keep them home. The district has roughly half a million students.

LA Mayor Karen Bass (we like typing that!) announced the city would provide safe places and meal distribution for kids during the walkout, including "21 Recreation Centers to serve as Grab & Go locations" for school meals, as well as free "after school" — but really all day — programs at 30 rec centers for kids in first through fifth grade. City libraries are also offering extra programs, and the LA Zoo had free admission for all kids in K-12 (accompanying adults have a $5 entry fee).

Here, put on some Billy Bragg or Pete Seeger and read some of the LA Times's reporting from the strike:

In the 5 a.m darkness, when bus drivers typically begin their day, hundreds of district employees joined the picket line at the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Van Nuys bus yard, marching in rain ponchos and balancing signs with umbrellas. Starting at 6:30 a.m., picketers converged at schools throughout the sprawling district as heavy rain soaked them.

Alejandra Sanchez, a special education assistant, joined 20 other picketers in front of Eagle Rock Junior/Senior High School. Her job isn’t easy, as she works with students with often unpredictable behavioral issues.

She chanted, “Fair wages,” from Yosemite Drive and La Roda Avenue while holding a “Respect Us! Pay Us!” sign.

“I love my work and the students,” said Sanchez, 45. “And it’s sad that I have to get up today in the rain to fight for respect because the district doesn’t understand what I and so many others do.”

Starting pay for special education aides is around $19 per hour; that can go up to $24 an hour — with a six-hour workday, so as several striking service workers pointed out to media, it can end up paying about the same as a fast food job (nothing against fast food workers, of course). Other support staff, as the AP notes, don't even make that much:

Instructional aide Marlee Ostrow, who planned to join picket lines, said she’s long overdue for a raise. The 67-year-old was hired two decades ago at $11.75 an hour, and today she makes about $16. That isn’t enough to keep pace with inflation and rising housing prices, she said, and meanwhile her duties have expanded from two classrooms to five.

Ostrow blames the district’s low wages for job vacancies that have piled up in recent years.

“There’s not even anybody applying because you can make more money starting at Burger King,” she said. “A lot of people really want to help kids, and they shouldn’t be penalized for wanting that to be their life’s work.”

Striking teachers, represented by United Teachers Los Angeles, called attention to the low wages of support staff and pointed out that teachers can't hope to do their jobs well if school staff aren't able to make a living doing theirs.

“We are out here speaking up for our SEIU brothers and sisters who are living below the poverty line,” said Pablo Oliveros, 41, a 21-year art teacher. “This can’t continue to happen.”

Contract talks broke down Monday between the school district and the workers, represented by Local 99 of the Service Employees International Union. About 30,000 SEIU workers are off the job through Thursday, demanding a 30 percent raise. The union says the average annual salary for support staff is only around $25,000, and many of its workers are in poverty, particularly due to the high costs of housing in the LA area. Teachers are also asking for a 20 percent pay increase over two years.

The AP reports that the district is offering

a cumulative 23% raise, starting with 2% retroactive as of the 2020-21 school year and ending with 5% in 2024-25. The package would also include a one-time 3% bonus for those who have been on the job more than a year, along with more full-time positions and an expansion of healthcare benefits.

“This offer addresses the needs and concerns from the union, while also remaining fiscally responsible and keeping the District in a financially stable position,” [LAUSD Superintendent Alberto] Carvalho’s statement said.

Support staff haven't had a contract since 2020, and teachers haven't had a contract since June of last year. LAUSD teachers held a six-day strike in 2019 for better pay, smaller class sizes, and more school nurses, counselors, and librarians, although voters later turned down a property tax hike that would have paid for some of those improvements.

We'll give the last word here to parent Roxana Tynan, who showed up to join striking teachers at her daughter's school. Tynan told the LA Times

she was aware most parents didn’t have the luxury of a flexible schedule to protest, but thought any short-term pain from closed campuses was worth the long-term gains.

“Of course, we want our kids in school, but it’s not sustainable,” she said. “We’re going to keep losing teachers and staff like special ed aides, custodians and others if we don’t pay better. This is in the best interests of our children.”

Solidarity forever, as they say. And hey, even if it isn't the SEIU, let's enjoy the fake ASCFME ad again.

[AP / LA Mayor's office / LAT / CNN]

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