LAUSD files last-ditch legal challenge to stop looming strikes and school closures

Los Angeles, CA - March 15: A crowd gathered in Grand Park infant of City Hall on Wednesday, March 15, 2023, in Los Angeles, CA.  United Teachers of Los Angeles and SEIU 99 members hold a joint rally at Grand Park in a historic show of solidarity.  It has been almost ten months since the contract between LAUSD and UTLA has expired, and a staggering three years for SEIU members, leaving almost 60,000 employees vulnerable in the midst of a record-high inflation and a housing crisis.  (Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

United Teachers of Los Angeles and SEIU 99 members held a joint rally at downtown’s Grand Park on Wednesday in a show of solidarity as both unions prepare to strike for three days next week. (Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Unified officials are mounting a last-ditch legal challenge to stall or prevent a three-day strike that would shut down classrooms across the nation’s second-largest school district starting on Tuesday.

The district has asked state labor regulators to issue an injunction to halt the strike, alleging that it is illegal. District sources acknowledged that they didn’t know if the state Public Employment Relations Board would act on the filing in time to prevent the strike.

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The challenge cites the unusual legal basis and timing of the walkout, which would have occurred before the typical step-by-step bargaining process has been completed.

The strike is being led by Local 99 of Service Employees International Union, which represents about 30,000 bus drivers, teacher aids, campus security aids, special education assistants, custodians, gardeners and cafeteria workers. Leaders of United Teachers Los Angeles have encouraged their members to join the walkout. UTLA represents about 35,000 teachers, nurses, counselors, therapists and librarians.

Each union is on a separate negotiating track with LA Unified. Local 99 is further along in the process, having reached the fact-finding stage, according to documents filed with state labor regulators.

Generally, fact-finding would be completed before a strike. In addition, both sides would also have to present their “last, best and final offer.”

But this job action is different.

It is, in effect, a protest by Local 99 in response to alleged illegal acts by LA Unified that the union claims to have impeded its leadership and members from engaging in lawful union-related activity.

The district denies any wrongdoing. In its filing, the district accuses Local 99 of using unfounded accusations as a pretext when, in fact, the real issue leading to the strike is the district’s unwillingness to meet the union’s demands over wages, benefits and other terms.

The filing also calls for an injunction simply because certain certain Local 99 members are “essential employees” whose absence from work during the strike would “imminently threaten the public’s health and safety.”

The LA Unified filing also notes that the state labor board “has held strikes or other work stoppages before completion” of the negotiating process “violates the union’s duty to negotiate in good faith, and/or to participate in good faith in the impasse resolution process.”

Local 99 respondents with a statement that school district officials have “repeatedly disrespected and violated the rights of workers because they have exercised their right to speak out for improvements to their livelihoods and the student services they provide. LAUSD’s filing of charges is just a last- minute legal attempt to further intimidate workers and silence their voices.”

A settlement that would prevent the strike appeared unlikely Friday as no negotiations took place between LA Unified officials and Local 99.

The teachers union bargained with the district on Friday, but a settlement in these negotiations also appeared unlikely. And, even a settlement with UTLA would not prevent Local 99 members from walking out.

Local 99 last held a bargaining session with the district on March 1. LA schools Supt. Alberto Carvalho said this week that he and his team are ready to meet with Local 99 “around the clock” to prevent a strike.

He urged the union not to undertake a step that would further harm students already struggling to recover academically and emotionally from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Union officials suggested the effort was insincere and too little, too late.

“More than half of SEIU Local 99 members are also parents of school-aged children, many of them are students at LAUSD,” spokeswoman Blanca Gallegos said Friday. “We are keenly aware of the impact that a strike will have on our families. LAUSD has encouraged workers to take this step because of their continued disrespect of workers.”

She added: “SEIU Local 99 also continues to follow the legal mediation process with the state. If LAUSD wants to break the impasse process, they must meet workers’ demands for a living wage, increased hours, more staffing and respect on the job. “

The union is seeking an across-the-board 30% increase plus an additional $2 per hour for the lowest paid workers.

The district had been offering a 15% increase over three years plus one-time bonuses of 4% and 5% in consecutive years.

On Friday, the district amended its offer:

  • 5% one-time bonus for the 2020-21 school year

  • 5% ongoing increase for 2021-22

  • 5% ongoing increase for 2022-23

  • 6% ongoing increase for 2023-24

  • 3% ongoing increase for 2024-25

Meanwhile, the school system, the city, the county and local groups continue to prepare contingency plans for a walkout.

LA Unified has launched updates to provide resources for families during the work stop page period. Updates and additional information will be posted “as it becomes available,” according to the school system.

The website includes information regarding 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 public library system is offering expanded programs and the City of LA recreation department is offering expanded hours and activities, while many groups that offer off-campus, after-school activities are leaning up to provide as much all-day supervision as they can manage .

Principals will contact families daily to provide persistent updates, the district stated.

The school system will also post updates on social media.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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