LAUSD Strike Highlights the Growing Challenges of Los Angeles Life

LOS ANGELES – As of Tuesday, Diana Cruz has arranged her work from home as an executive assistant with childcare after school strike in Los Angeles forced their classes to be canceled for three days.

Ms. Cruz earns $36,000 a year and is raising her two daughters and teenage son in a two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles, where she splits the $1,700 rent with her mother.

A few miles away, Yolanda Mims Reed earns about $24 an hour as a part-time special education assistant at Hamilton High School. She earns extra income by taking care of an elderly woman and doing her hair.

Parents like Ms. Cruz may be confused by the strike, but few are as angry with strikers as Ms. Reed.

The parents see their lives reflected in the struggles of bus drivers, cafeteria workers and classroom assistants walking along the fence – working-class residents took on many jobs to survive in Southern California.

Ms Cruz, 33, said: “If you’re not making a hefty six-figure salary, then, yes, it’s hard. “How can you not support their cause?”

The strike clearly illustrated the economic divide in modern Los Angeles, where low-wage workers can barely co-pay rent while wealthy professionals in other neighborhoods are willing. paid $13 for a coconut smoothie. In this case, the district’s working-class parents and school staff are on the same side of the divide.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest, relies on tens of thousands of employees struggling to keep up with rising costs in a housing shortage state. According to district data, most of the families they serve are in the same situation, with 89% of the district’s households being economically disadvantaged.

Housing is the biggest expense for people living in the Los Angeles area, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to the agency, residents spend 38% of their annual spending on housing, compared with the national average of about 34%.

Kyla Thomas, a sociologist at the University of Southern California, said: “The high cost of living in Los Angeles permeates every aspect of life and often forces low-income residents to make impossible choices between basic needs such as housing, safety, health care and food”. Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research. “Many people in LA live on the brink of crisis.”

Barometer, one survey which the Dornsife Center conducted to monitor social conditions and attitudes in the area, found that about 60 percent of local tenants are “rent-burdened,” meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income. enter households for housing.

Griselda Perez, 51, says her family managed to pay $2,000 in rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the Boyle Heights neighborhood. Her eldest son, 20 years old, shares a room with two boys aged 11 and 9 who attend the district school. Every day the family feels the squeeze of the makeover, she said, as more higher-income earners move east from downtown.

Ms. Perez said she tried to explain the strike to her sons by likening their circumstances – they can’t afford birthday parties and trips to Disneyland – to the challenges that workers face. their school work to face.

“When I see the people working in the canteen, when I see the woman at the front door, when I see the woman working in the parent center, we talk mother to mother,” she said. speak. “The struggles they face are the same as the struggles we have.”

Protests continued Wednesday with barricades at schools and campus facilities, including at the district’s headquarters in downtown Los Angeles. School support workers joined the district’s 35,000 teachers in the strike. The strike is expected to end on Thursday.

The 99 local branch of Service Employees International Union, which represents 30,000 support workers in Los Angeles Unified, said half of its members responded to an internal 2022 survey. they did the second job.

The union also says its members earn an average of $25,000 a year — a figure that Los Angeles Unification Association officials say includes both part-time and full-time employees. The average full-time salary is unclear.

The union notes that 64% of its members are Latino and 20% are black. Likewise, the families they serve are also overwhelmingly Latino, about 74%, a natural result of migration and widespread population trends.

Austin Beutner, who served as superintendent during the coronavirus pandemic, says the vast majority of parents understand the plight of Local 99 members because they live in the same neighborhood. He said that half a dozen school principals he spoke to on Tuesday said they found great support from parents for the staff.

Mr. Beutner said: “The interaction between school staff and the community is very close and close. “They are the community. So many of them have family members in the school or neighbors in the school.”

Local 99 leaned on that support and tried to turn its contract war into a fight for low-wage workers across Los Angeles. And parental support – for now – can help the union on the negotiating table.

Workers are looking for an overall increase of 30 percent, as well as an additional $2 an hour for the lowest paid employees. Union members have been working without a contract since 2020.

Alberto M. Carvalho, the current superintendent, acknowledged the “historical inequities” faced by workers, in a statement Tuesday.

“I understand the frustration of our employees, not just for a few years but possibly for decades,” Mr. Carvalho said.

School districts cannot increase revenue as quickly as private sector businesses can through price increases during times of inflation. Los Angeles County relies on funds identified at the state level, and after years of growth, California is projected to face a deficit next fiscal year. The district also continues to lose students each year, which means they receive less money because funding is based on student enrollment.

The district protested by raising wages 23 percent, spread over several years, and one-time bonuses of 3 percent. Carvalho said that the latest proposal seeks to address the union’s needs “while maintaining financial accountability and keeping the district in a financially stable position.”

At a time when public support for organized labor is high, strikes of teachers and educators are increasingly common. Faced with rapidly rising inflation and the prospect of higher wages in the private sector, civil servants felt the need for drastic change.

“Everybody else gets a raise. My son takes the Star exam?” Jovita Padilla, a 40-year-old bus driver, said Tuesday.

In a county with a high poverty rate like Los Angeles Unified, school closures cut off not only classroom instruction but also important school meals. The district provides free breakfast and lunch to all children, regardless of income, and many children rely on those meals during the school week. With negotiations coming to an impasse, the district established monitoring location where working parents can drop off their children, as well as locations where families can pick up three days’ worth of belongings. breakfast and lunch.

Gabriela Cruz, a district parent who is not related to Diana Cruz, stopped by one of the distribution sites this week and picked up a box of food, which she said was a big help. “My kids need to eat every day and free food is great for us because we spend a lot on groceries,” she said.

Ms. Cruz, 44, said working as a receptionist at a real estate office on the first day of the strike was not easy. She had to take her young daughter and son to work.

“The truth is it’s very hard to work with,” she said.

Her family of five depends on part-time work that pays her $15 an hour. She works 30 hours a week. Her husband works full time in a restaurant and is paid the minimum wage.

“Everything is expensive,” she said.

Report contributed by Shawn Hubler from Sacramento, and Corina Knoll And Ana Facio-Krajcer from Los Angeles. Susan C. Beach Contributing research.


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