Who are the LAUSD union members going on strike?

If a light bulb burns out at the kindergarten where she works, Bernice Young climbs a ladder to change it. If the trees in the playground lose their leaves, she comes out with the leaf blower. She washes the toilets and shampoos the carpets in the classrooms. For generations of 2-5 year olds who call her Miss Bernice, she brought the blankets for naps and Cheez-Its for tea time.

After 23 years of child care at preschools from Hollywood to South Los Angeles, she said, her pay has gone from $10.01 an hour to $18.86 an hour. That’s barely enough to pay the rent for a $2,000 a month one-bedroom apartment she found.

“My hands are bad. My knees are bad. My legs are bad. But I come to work every day,” said Young, 58, who works at the Esther Collins Early Education Center on 52nd Street in South Los Angeles. “I love my job but the pay is horrible and it has been for many years.”

Bernice Young, 58, a longtime caretaker with LAUSD, at the headquarters of the Service Employees International Union, Local 99, on Saturday.

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

At Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second-largest school district, she’s one of a legion of employees — from bus drivers to teacher’s aides, food servers to janitors — who serve the schools behind the scenes and are in many ways the essential workers of campus operations. His 30,000-member union is preparing for a three-day strike on Tuesday in its campaign for higher wages and will be joined by teachers in solidarity.

With most employees expected to be gone, the district is keeping its 420,000 students off-campus and providing no live instruction, though all employees can report to their job sites.

Young’s union, Service Employees International Union Local 99, is demanding a 30% wage increase plus an additional $2 an hour for the lowest-paid workers.

On Friday, the district increased its offer to Local 99, introducing a 19% rolling increase over three years and a one-time 5% bonus for those who worked in the 2020-21 school year. The District also launched a last-ditch legal push Friday night with California labor regulators to block or prevent the strike, but it’s unclear if a decision will be made in time, and no negotiations are expected before the date. of the strike.

The teachers’ union, also in the midst of contract negotiations, is demanding a 20% pay rise over two years and is also negotiating a broad list of initiatives, including additional support for black students and affordable housing for families in low income.

The closures have taken parents by surprise, forcing them to scramble to find daycare or miss work. Teachers send home packages of homework and computers. The school district and community organizations are developing plans to feed tens of thousands of children who depend on schools for most of their meals during the week. The Los Angeles City and County Parks Department organizes day-long activities and supervision.

Young, who is a union strike captain, works full time and receives benefits. But she regularly stays beyond her eight-hour shift to complete the day’s chores and is determined to do what it takes to improve working conditions.

“You’re being taken advantage of,” she said. She is still standing. “All day, honey, every day. I sit down when it’s my lunch time, my break. Other than that, all day.

She said she hoped the strike would send a message.

“We don’t want to continue to live in poverty all our lives,” she said. “Salary is a big deal – working so long and earning nothing.”

 John Lewis chats with colleagues as he arrives at Gardena bus station

John Lewis chats with colleagues as he arrives at Gardena bus station late Friday afternoon.

(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

At 56, John Lewis drove buses for the school district for 34 years, a job that now earns him $34 an hour. He boards his six-wheeled yellow bus at the Gardena Grand Depot at 5:30 a.m. and gets off at 5:30 p.m.

On its current route, it picks up and drops off approximately 50 students from Bancroft Middle School and Fairfax High. It is assigned to some students for six years, taking them from childhood through the dawn of early adulthood.

“I love what I do. I love being around the kids. We’re the first person they see in the morning and the last person they see when they get off the bus,” Lewis said. to see them grow is amazing…. It’s not like we want to interrupt their education, but we have families and we want to be respected and earn a living wage.

The average salary for the Local 99 unit that includes bus drivers, guards and food service workers is $31,825. The average annual salary for teacher assistants, including special education, is $27,531. Teacher assistants earn an average of $22,657. After-school program workers earn an average of $14,576.

About 24,000 members of Local 99 work less than eight hours a day and about 6,000 work eight-hour jobs. More than 10,000 members of Local 99 do not have medical coverage through the school district.

Crowds of LAUSD union workers gather in Grand Park.

Los Angeles Unified teachers and staff hold a joint rally in Grand Park.

(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

Shaunn D — she didn’t want to use her last name — works at Dorsey High in South Los Angeles as a representative for the Black Student Achievement Program.

Until this year, she had worked for 19 years as a community and parent representative at Bradley Elementary School, earning around $16 an hour. Both jobs involved a bit of everything – a common theme among Local 99 workers who are used to filling in the gaps for what is needed.

“Sometimes they just need words of encouragement,” she says of her students. “Sometimes they just need to hear people – or just talk and we listen. Some of these children are suffering and you cannot send a child to find out if they are suffering.

She recalled a 10-year-old child who came to school after his 31-year-old mother was murdered.

“I held this boy in my arms like he was a baby, sitting in the nurse’s office, rocking him, because he couldn’t function that day,” she said. “He was so broken.”

In Dorsey, she welcomes students in the morning. Later in the day, she caters to the needs of black students.

“I have contact with the parents. I talk to the kids,” she said. “We also provide clothes or whatever the kids need, if they don’t have shoes, jackets or anything like that.” There is no budget for this, but people will donate money or she will buy items out of her own pocket.

She said she feels bad that the students are missing school. “It will impact them.” But union action is important to support the livelihoods of those who want to work in public schools.

“I do this because I love children,” she said of her role. But she tells her own children in college – who grew up watching their mother take a second job to make ends meet – “Don’t get into education. And that sounds bad, I know. But I didn’t want them to have to go through the struggles.

For 24 years, Peniana Arguelles worked as a special education assistant in Los Angeles public schools.

At Menlo Avenue Elementary School in South Los Angeles, Arguelles feeds children who can’t hold a fork. She changes their diapers, helps them choose their paint colors, and kisses them when they cry.

Arguelles, who worked as a special education assistant at LAUSD for 24 years, said she considers herself blessed and “loves her job and her students.” She doesn’t have a teaching degree, but she is a teacher’s right-hand man, working with children with disabilities and special learning needs.

She and other teaching assistants said their walkout was a matter of respect. They are among the lowest paid workers in the district. Aides who have worked with students with disabilities start at around $19 and can earn up to around $24 per hour. But they said their workload had become unsustainable.

Arguellas is especially irritated that the Los Angeles Unified School District is asking her to do more work outside of her classroom assignments — helping extra students with homework and leading calming exercises with them.

“It’s putting on two hats for the same pay,” she said. “It is not fair.”

Kyle Sanchez, 35, works at the Rosa Parks Learning Center in North Hills with 18 special education students in a fourth- and fifth-grade shared classroom. He said the class was “far too big” for him alone and that it entailed “too many off-clock hours”. He wants a higher salary, but also reduced class sizes and aid.

“We’ve reached the point where something needs to be done,” Sanchez said. “We need more staff, more money and a little respect.”

These teacher aides said the public does not understand the work their members do to keep schools running.

Serios Castro, 35, a “proud LAUSD product” and alumnus of Roosevelt High School, said the extra work for special education teachers and aides is taken for granted.

Castro created an on-campus photography club specifically for students with special needs at the Elizabeth Learning Center which he says has created “opportunities for children to express themselves through photography.”

“It seems like ‘going beyond’ is expected,” Castro said. “We love our children and our school, but at the end of the day we need a living wage. We love LA, but we also need to be able to live here.

Los Angeles Times

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