Unions’ Strike Hurts L.A. Students and Families
Two employee unions in Los Angeles Unified are poised to strike this week, shutting down schools and leaving many parents angry that students are — once again — being used as leverage by the unions in contract negotiations.
The unions are demanding huge pay raises despite financial reports showing LAUSD is already upside down $16.4 billion. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 99 is demanding a whopping 30% increase in wages for school employees like bus drivers and cafeteria workers. United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) is also joining the strike, seeking a 20% raise for teachers.
“The unions strike and close down schools regardless of how much it will hurt students and their families,” said Lance Christensen, Vice President of Education Policy and Government Affairs at California Policy Center.
“It’s part of the union playbook to force district officials to accept pay hikes they can’t afford,” Christensen added. “There are other ways to resolve pay disputes without using students as pawns in contract negotiations.”
Many students in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools are still struggling to make up for the extensive learning loss they suffered when the teachers’ unions shut down L.A. schools during the pandemic. Unions insist the strike will start March 21 if their demands aren’t met — despite parent concerns about the impact on kids.
LAUSD Superintendent Alberto Carvalho “urged union leadership to negotiate ‘around the clock’ to avert the strike, which he said would further harm more than 420,000 students trying to recover academically and emotionally from the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced them into remote learning for more than year,” reports the Los Angeles Times.
A CPC analysis estimates that if SEIU Local 99 and UTLA persist with the three-day strike, LAUSD students will collectively lose between 1 million and 1.6 million days of classroom instruction during that time.
“L.A. students can’t afford to lose any more classroom time,” Christensen said. “Union leaders should put students first and figure out a way to avoid the strike.”
LAUSD is already projected to spend about $1 billion more than it will take in over the next two fiscal years, and the strike raises some hard questions for the district and SEIU about part-time work, writes CPC senior fellow Edward Ring in an op-ed in the Orange County Register.
“About 75% of the members work fewer than eight hours per day…with school in session only 180 days, or 36 weeks per year,” Ring explains. “LAUSD, and the unions representing LAUSD’s workers, have to start by recognizing that if there were an efficient way to convert every part-time worker to full-time work, thousands of part-time workers would have to be let go.”
No doubt UTLA is eager to put service workers out in front of the strike since public opinion of teachers’ unions has shifted significantly in the wake of union-backed school shutdowns during the pandemic. Teacher union policies —before, during and after the pandemic— have decimated LAUSD schools.
The state’s most recent student achievement tests reveal two out of three LAUSD students can’t meet the state’s math standards, and six out of ten can’t meet state English Language Arts targets — all while the district is spending an average of $30,514 per student this year.
Fed up families are fleeing LAUSD schools in droves: Enrollment in LAUSD has plummeted from 737,739 students in 2002 to 422,276 last year — a loss of a staggering 315,000 students in two decades. That’s not counting the nearly 50,000 kids who didn’t even show up to class at the beginning of this school year.
“The question everyone should be asking is why strike now?” Christensen said. “Anyone paying attention knows that LAUSD students and schools are hanging by a thread.”
“The answer is that the unions are always about more money, and they don’t care how many students they have to step over to get it,” he said.