LOS ANGELES — The union representing 30,000 education workers reached a tentative agreement with the Los Angeles Unified School District on Friday following a three-day strike earlier this week that closed hundreds of campuses and canceled classes for 422,000 students.
Local 99 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents support workers in the district, said Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second-largest school district, met its key demands, including a 30 percent pay raise. The contract still needs to be voted on by the full union.
Mayor Karen Bass announced the deal Friday at City Hall with Max Arias, executive director of Local 99, and District Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.
“I am grateful to have found an agreement to move forward today,” said Mayor Bass, “This is the beginning of a new relationship that I believe will lead to a stronger LAUSD and a better future for workers and students in the years to come.”
During the strike, the union pressed its case that many of its members made little more than minimum wage and struggled to pay their bills in high-cost Southern California.
Local 99 members — gardeners, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and special education aides — joined the Los Angeles Teachers Union, which is currently negotiating its own contract, and has asked its 35,000 members to walk out in solidarity. In total, that means 65,000 school employees were part of the strike.
The strike that began Tuesday was limited to three days, before Local 99 agreed to a tentative contract, and schools had already reopened Friday morning.
What to know about the LA schools strike
An outing in California. Tens of thousands of Los Angeles school workers began a three-day strike on March 21 that forced hundreds of campuses to close and canceled classes for 422,000 students in the nation’s second-largest school district. Here’s what you need to know:
Local 99 members Worked without contract from July 1, 2020. The new contract gives them a series of retroactive pay raises and runs through June 30, 2024, according to the school district.
The minimum wage will be set at $22.52 an hour, and workers who work through June 30, 2021 will receive a one-time bonus of $1,000, the district said. A $3 million education and career development fund for union members will also be created.
Mr. Arias said his members’ salaries would increase by 15 percent upon approval. Jan. After 1, their salaries will be about 30 percent higher than they were on Tuesday, when the strike began.
“It has the potential for change,” he said in an interview Friday night. “We want this to be a spark to rethink our schools and the values around education. When 65,000 education workers tell parents they need to do this to improve the situation, that’s powerful.
SEIU workers argued that they represent 40 percent of the school district’s workforce but less than 10 percent of its budget. However, the deal could present a major financial challenge to the district because when one of its many unions negotiates favorable terms, the rest typically demand them. Teachers, for example, account for the lion’s share of district wages and are widely expected to consider the SEIU contract in their contract negotiations. Teachers stood in solidarity with SEIU workers and refused to cross picket lines.
Both the school district and the union credited Mayor Bass, who took office in December, with helping broker the deal.
“Even when things started going bad, he was absolutely amazing at getting everyone to talk back to each other,” said school board president Jackie Goldberg. He said negotiations were facilitated with the help of a mediator.
Mayor Bass said in an interview Friday evening that he had been in informal conversations with district and union leaders for “two weeks” before the strike began, “but we kept it quiet.”
A former member of Congress, Ms. Bass has long been known for his ability to bridge differences through quiet, back-channel conversations, particularly among fellow Democrats. Elected with the support of SEIU, he was a natural mediator, even though mayors in Los Angeles don’t have much power over schools beyond the bully pulpit.
When it became clear that face-to-face meetings would not be enough to stop the strike, he offered a neutral meeting place for both sides at Los Angeles City Hall.
He said part of his job is to help the union understand the superintendent, who has spent most of his career in Florida. And part of his job was helping the superintendent and the district understand the workers’ situation.
“We’re talking about the lowest paid workers in the school district,” he said. “Many of them had very low incomes, they were housing insecure. Many of them were homeless and out and about.
That, he said, was a surprising and encouraging discovery for him. “I don’t know,” he said, adding that the strike was “an education” for much of the city.
“When you think about low-wage workers, you don’t think about school employees,” he said. “You think, perhaps, of fast food workers. But you don’t think about the people who care for children with special needs.
Many support workers said this week that their positions are only part-time, meaning they have to look for second or third jobs to pay their bills. At the press conference, Mr. Carvalho said the temporary contract would provide additional hours of employment, as well as health benefits for part-time workers who work four or more hours a day, including coverage for their dependents.
“I have no doubt that this agreement will be viewed as a pioneering, historic agreement that respects the dignity of our workers, the humanity, the needs of our students, but also guarantees the financial stability of our district for years to come. Come on,” Mr. Carvalho said. “Those are essential priorities for all of us. .”
“There’s nothing that compares to what we’ve accomplished now,” said Hugo Montelongo, a special education assistant at a high school in the San Fernando Valley. 52 year old Mr. Montelongo said she has worked for the district for more than 20 years and is passionate about working with students focused on life skills. The labor agreement, he said, was a long-awaited sign that people like him would be respected.
“We do it with love, but you can’t get love,” he said. “It feels like they’re finally respecting what we’re doing and accepting that what we’re doing is valuable.”
Mr. Montelongo said the contract would allow him to work 35 hours instead of 30, which would help him during the summer months when he’s not getting paid. In the past year, her utility bills have also risen, including food, insurance and gas costs.
“Our wages are not keeping up with inflation,” he said. “The cost of living in Los Angeles is ridiculous.”
After three days of protesting, Belen Perez, 24, was exhausted when she went to work Friday at an elementary school in Koreatown.
A teacher’s aide, Ms. Perez said she was paid less than she was as a cashier at a CVS pharmacy. But she loves trying to engage kids in the classroom and figured the lower pay was worth the experience she studied to become a speech-language pathologist.
When her group chat exploded with news of the labor deal on Friday afternoon, Ms. Perez had no regrets about the picketing.
“It was a relief because something really came out of this strike.”