LAUSD has declared an impasse in labor talks with the union representing bus drivers, cafeteria workers and special ed assistants, which is planning a one-day strike on May 15, just as the LAUSD’s new Superintendent Austin Beutner starts his job.
“After 16 months of bargaining, SEIU Local 99 has provided notice on Friday, May 4, that they are terminating their labor contract with L.A. Unified,” LAUSD said in a statement Sunday. “The District issued a declaration that we are at impasse in our negotiations, which means that the differences between our position and SEIU Local 99’s position are too large to resolve through further negotiations.”
A union spokeswoman disputed the notion of an impasse, but fired back with charges of unfair labor practices. The heated moves and rhetoric on both sides signal an increased likelihood of a longer-term strike in the fall, as LAUSD attempts to address serious fiscal challenges under the leadership of Beutner, a finance expert.
“Enough is enough,” said Tanya Walters, an LAUSD Bus Driver and Vice President of SEIU Local 99. “We’re trying to work with the District to address issues that impact our students. But instead of listening to those of us who work with students on the frontlines every day, they have bullied and harassed workers who speak up. And they’ve made staffing cuts and changes without speaking with those of us who do the work. We don’t want to strike, but we will move forward on May 15 if the District continues to disrespect our voices and disregard our work.”
A spokeswoman for SEIU Local 99 said the one-day strike is to protest what it said was a unilateral decision by LAUSD to reduce work hours of special ed assistants during negotiations over staffing and work hours.
The union filed charges with the Public Employment Relations Board to protest that decision and claims of “discrimination and coercion of workers engaging in union activities, including the district’s interference in SEIU Local 99’s strike authorization vote at some school sites.”
A full 94 percent of SEIU workers voted to authorize a strike, but SEIU Local 99 Spokeswoman Blanca Gallegos told Speak UP “in some cases, district personnel were interfering. There’s also been cases where members and organizers at school sites have not been allowed access. Workers have the right to speak up about issues.”
Gallegos emphasized that the one-day strike was over these labor practices, not over LAUSD’s declared impasse in labor talks Friday night after the district made its “last, best and final offer.”
“We don't agree that we're at impasse,” she said. An impasse would mean “we can’t go any further. This is it. We’re not in agreement that happened. The goal is to reach a fair agreement and continue to negotiate.”
A bargaining update posted on the SEIU Local 99 website Friday night said LAUSD was offering all SEIU workers a 3 percent raise and increased its Cleanliness Fund from $1 million to $2 million “to address ways to keep our schools cleaner.” LAUSD also increased its offer for an Education and Training Fund to $200,000.
“While the parties have made great progress in many areas, we remain unable to reach agreement on certain economic components,” LAUSD said in its statement. “L.A. Unified values and affirms the importance of the work done by SEIU Local 99 members and all employees. We believe that our economic offer is just and fair, especially considering the District’s fiscal realities and obligation to maximize limited resources to meet the needs of school communities.”
The union, however, said it was unhappy that LAUSD was not offering a “me-too” clause, which would guarantee that SEIU workers have the same rights that other unions, such as United Teachers Los Angeles, are able to negotiate.
SEIU also wants an increase in work hours for its members. “Support staff at LAUSD are the lowest paid,” Gallegos told Speak UP. “Many are parents and graduates of LAUSD. The big issue is hours. LAUSD depends largely on a part-time workforce to provide these student services … The district has admitted they are not at the level they need to be to maintain their own standards of cleanliness, and so we’re looking to increase staffing.”
The union is also unhappy that LAUSD is trying to make it harder for new workers to qualify for the current retiree healthcare benefits package – an attempt to address the more than $15 billion unfunded retiree health benefits liability, which threatens to bankrupt the district and take more and more money out of the classroom every year – leading to cuts in programs for kids.
LAUSD said the next step is for the State’s Public Employment Relations Board to review the District’s declaration of impasse. “If PERB also issues a finding that we are at impasse, the parties will engage in impasse procedures, including mediation.”
If that does not work, the union may go on strike during the next school year.
“We’re not there yet,” Gallegos told Speak UP. “We have to go through the process. The goal is not to strike. Members care deeply about the work and deeply about the students and understand there’s an impact there. At the same time, the issues we’re addressing are regarding school cleanliness, sufficient staffing.”
Gallegos said she was aware that a strike would be a big burden on students. “About half of our members are parents of students attending the district,” she said. “They really take these issues personally and understand how it affects their students.”