If you're one of the 41,000 students who relies on a Los Angeles Unified School District bus to get to class, start making a backup plan to get to school next week — and even if you're not, plan to pack a lunch.
The union representing more than 30,000 L.A. Unified classified employees — including bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians and teachers aides — announced Sunday that members plan to hold a one-day strike on May 15.
Leaders of SEIU Local 99 said they're planning the 24-hour work stoppage to protest a number of instances in which the union alleges L.A. Unified managers cut employee hours in violation of their contract or thwarted employees' union activities.
"We didn’t want to create a major, open-ended distruption," said SEIU Local 99 executive director Max Arias in an interview Sunday. "We think this is a gradual way to show the district that our members are serious about being respected."
LAUSD makes 'final offer' in contract talks
The union's announcement came days after negotiations on a new labor contract, which have dragged on for more than 16 months, appeared to hit a snag.
On Friday, L.A. Unified officials issued their "last, best and final" contract offer to the union. The union found that offer lacking.
With that, district negotiators declared that contract talks had reached an impasse Friday, "which means that the differences between our position and SEIU Local 99’s position are too large to resolve through further negotiations," according to an L.A. Unified statement. If a state agency agrees, the next step would be formal mediation.
Arias said the two sides remain divided, primarily over the issue of wages. But Arias disputed the notion that the two sides are so far apart that only mediation can reconcile their differences. He said district negotiators hadn't given real consideration to SEIU Local 99's last offer.
"L.A. Unified values and affirms the importance of the work done by SEIU Local 99 members and all employees," the school district's written statement said. "We believe that our economic offer is just and fair, especially considering the district’s fiscal realities and obligation to maximize limited resources to meet the needs of school communities."
This one-day strike is 'pretty much going to happen'
It appears unlikely that last-minute movement in contract negotiations could prevent the one-day work stoppage. Arias said this strike is technically not a response to the lack of a contract agreement, but rather a response to the specific charges of cut hours, discouragement of union activities and other "unfair labor practice" allegations SEIU members have leveled against L.A. Unified.
The May 15 strike is "pretty much going to happen," Arias said, "unless the district wants to talk about the unfair labor practices themselves and settle them."
Barring such a settlement, SEIU Local 99 members will strike on just the second day of work for L.A. Unified's new superintendent, Austin Beutner, whose contract term begins May 14. Arias said the timing is coincidental; he said the union had been planning internally for a one-day strike on May 15 well before Beutner's contract was announced.
But Arias said the "leadership vacuum" in the district has been a factor in the negotiations. With Beutner taking office, the superintendency will have changed hands twice during the period SEIU Local 99 has been negotiating with L.A. Unified. Control of the school board has shifted during that time, too.
"It doesn’t feel like they have stable leadership to actually address these issues," Arias said.