Demanding "respect and dignity" for tens of thousands of school support workers who help the Los Angeles Unified School District run, the union that represents 35,000 teachers in the city has called on its members to join a three-day strike starting Tuesday as school support staffers fight for a living wage.
Members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 99 "work so hard for our students," said United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) on Monday. "They deserve respect and dignity at work. We will be out in force tomorrow to make sure they get it."
Roughly 65,000 teachers and support professionals including bus drivers, cafeteria workers, teaching aides, and grounds workers are expected to walk out from Tuesday through Thursday this week, nearly a year after SEIU Local 99 entered contract negotiations with LAUSD, the second-largest school district in the United States.
The union is calling for a 30% pay increase for its members, who earn an average of $25,000 per year, or roughly $12 per hour. According to the MIT Living Wage Calculator, a living wage in the Los Angeles area is more than $21 per hour for a single person with no children and far more for people with children.
"I am a single mother and for the past 20 years I have worked two and sometimes three jobs just to support my family," Janette Verbera, a special education assistant, told In These Times Monday. "How do we properly service our students when we are being overworked and underpaid and disrespected?"
The school district offered a 20% overall pay increase spread over several years on Friday, along with a one-time 5% bonus.
Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO, noted that LAUSD has a $4.9 billion surplus and said the district must use those funds to "invest in staff, students, and educators."
SEIU Local 99 members voted to authorize a strike in February, and said the limited three-day action is a protest against the district's negotiating tactics.
LAUSD has claimed the strike is unlawful and that workers are actually staging the walkout over pay without having exhausted all bargaining avenues. A state board over the weekend denied the district's request to block the strike.
As In These Timesreported, negotiations between the district and SEIU Local 99—as well as separate ongoing talks with the teachers' union about educators' contracts—are being led by Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho, "whose $440,000 salary is nearly 10 times that of a starting salary for a LAUSD teacher."
"LAUSD won't get away with underfunding our schools," tweeted UTLA last week. "This is for our students, for our communities and for our lives."
This content originally appeared on Common Dreams and was authored by Julia Conley.