LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Members of the Service Employees International Union Local 99 were back on the picket lines Thursday for the final day of their three-day strike against the Los Angeles Unified School District, with the day culminating in a massive rally at Los Angeles State Historic Park.
Tens of thousands of union members and their supporters descended on the park early Thursday afternoon in a boisterous display of solidarity.
There was no word on whether any progress was being made in talks between the union -- which represents roughly 30,000 LAUSD service workers -- and the district. Mayor Karen Bass has been facilitating discussions between the two sides, but it was unclear if the talks were materializing into actual contract negotiations.
The roughly 30,000 workers represented by SEIU Local 99 walked off the job Tuesday for a three-day strike amid stalled labor talks focused primarily on the union's demand for a 30% salary boost.
The workers -- including cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians, special education assistants and others -- were joined in sympathy by about 30,000 members of the United Teachers Los Angeles union, which is engaged in labor talks of its own with the district, seeking a 20% pay hike for its members.
The walkout left more than 400,000 students without classes for three days. But union officials said Wednesday the strike would end as scheduled Thursday, with workers reporting back for duty on Friday.
According to Bass' office, the mayor "will continue to work privately with all parties to reach an agreement to reopen the schools and guarantee fair treatment of all LAUSD workers."
No other specifics were offered. However, Max Arias, president of SEIU Local 99, issued a statement Wednesday supporting the mayor's involvement.
"We are grateful that the mayor has stepped in to provide leadership in an effort to find a path out of our current impasse," Arias said. "Education workers have always been eager to negotiate as long as we are treated with respect and bargained with fairly, and with the mayor's leadership we believe that is possible."
The LAUSD issued a statement that said district officials "have been in conversation with SEIU Local 99 leaders with the assistance and support of Mayor Bass."
"We continue to do everything possible to reach an agreement that honors the hard work of our employees, corrects historic inequities, maintains the financial stability of the district and brings students back to the classroom," according to the district. "We are hopeful these talks continue and look forward to updating our school community on a resolution."
Union leaders have repeatedly argued that its membership earns an median salary of about $25,000 a year, calling the salary "poverty wages."
"Let me be clear, the district has approximately between a $13 billion and $14 billion budget a year," SEIU Local 99 Executive Director Max Arias said during a rally Tuesday. "Out of that budget, it spends between 5% and 6% on payroll for 40% of the workforce. That's negligible."
Carvalho issued a statement Tuesday again saying he and the district remain prepared to return to negotiations at any time "so we can provide an equitable contract to our hardworking employees and get our students back in classrooms."
"I understand our employees' frustration that has been brewing, not just for a couple of years, but probably for decades," he said.
"And it is on the basis of recognizing historic inequities that we have put on the table a historic proposal. This offer addresses the needs and concerns from the union, while also remaining fiscally responsible and keeping the district in a financially stable position."
According to the district, the LAUSD last week made an offer that included a 5% wage increase retroactive to July 2021, another 5% increase retroactive to July 2022 and another 5% increase effective July 2023, along with a 4% bonus in 2022-23 and a 5% bonus in 2023-24.
On Monday, Carvalho said the district sweetened the offer to an overall 23% salary increase, along with a 3% "cash-in-hand bonus."
The union, however, has been pushing for a 30% pay raise, with an additional boost for the lowest-paid workers.
SEIU workers have been working without a contract since June 2020. The union declared an impasse in negotiations in December, leading to the appointment of a state mediator.
In addition to salary demands, union officials have also alleged staffing shortages caused by an "over-reliance on a low-wage, part-time workforce." The union alleged shortages including:
-- insufficient teacher assistants, special education assistants and other instructional support to address learning loss and achievement gaps;
-- substandard cleaning and disinfecting at school campuses because of a lack of custodial staff;
-- jeopardized campus safety due to campus aides and playground supervisors being overburdened, and,
-- limited enrichment, after-school and parental engagement programs due to reduced work hours and lack of health care benefits for after-school workers and community representatives.
The unions have repeatedly said the district is sitting on a projected $4.9 billion reserve fund for 2022-23 that should be invested in workers and efforts to improve education through reduced class sizes and full staffing of all campuses. But Carvalho has disputed that figure, saying no such reserve exists.
He has also said that most of the district's reserve funds are federal dollars restricted for student programs or other one-time funds that cannot be used to increase salaries.
The strike is the first major labor disruption for the district since UTLA teachers went on strike for six days in 2019. That strike ended thanks in part to the involvement of then-Mayor Eric Garcetti.
The district on Friday announced the creation of a website at achieve.lausd.net/schoolupdates which will "provide resources for families during the work stoppage period" from Tuesday through Thursday. According to the district, the site has information on "learning activities, Grab & Go food locations, tutoring services, enrichment activities and cultural opportunities across Los Angeles and Los Angeles County park locations that will provide free youth programs." The district also established a hotline at 213-443-1300, operating between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.
The standoff between the district and SEIU has been riddled with accusations of unfair labor and bargaining practices.
The LAUSD on Friday filed a legal challenge with the state Public Employment Relations Board seeking an injunction that would halt the strike, claiming the union's walkout was illegal. Over the weekend, however, the PERB denied the district's request for injunctive relief because it did not find "the extraordinary remedy of seeking injunctive relief to be met at this juncture," according to the LAUSD.
But, according to the district, the PERB did direct its Office of General Counsel to expedite the processing of the district's underlying unfair practice charge against SEIU Local 99, which alleged that the union and its members were engaging in an unlawful three-day strike.
The union has repeatedly accused the district of engaging in unfair labor practices, saying union members have been subjected to harassment and intimidation tactics during an earlier strike-authorization vote and as the possible walkout neared.
Carvalho on Monday acknowledged those accusations, but said there is a process for investigating such claims, and "it takes time." He said the union was using those allegations as an "expedited way of creating a strike opportunity."