30,000 LAUSD workers call off May 15 strike after reaching tentative contract deal

Members of the union representing L.A. Unified School District teachers, United Teachers Los Angeles, hold a rally outside of Helen Bernstein High School in Hollywood.
Members of the union representing L.A. Unified School District teachers, United Teachers Los Angeles, hold a rally outside of Helen Bernstein High School in Hollywood.
Kyle Stokes/KPCC

UPDATED, 11:30 p.m. — Los Angeles Unified School District bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, classroom aides and other non-teaching employees called off a one-day strike planned for May 15 after leaders of their union reached a tentative contract agreement with district officials late Tuesday.

The surprise announcement came just days after L.A. Unified officials said no further progress could be made in contract talks with the classified employees union, SEIU Local 99. Those talks — which had dragged on over 16 months — stalled in the late stages primarily over the issue of wage increases.

After district officials declared an impasse Friday, SEIU leaders announced over the weekend they would hold a one-day strike on May 15, nominally over allegations that district managers had mistreated union members over the course of the protracted contract negotiation.

Members of the district's teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, raised the stakes for L.A. Unified after saying their teachers would not cross the picket lines at the hundreds of school sites where SEIU members planned to picket on May 15. While the absence of bus drivers, aides and cafeteria workers would've caused a significant disruption, the added absence of teachers would've left many district schools with little choice but to close altogether.

But by Tuesday night, SEIU leaders said district officials had resolved the unfair labor practice allegations and the two sides had come together over a contract deal they could live with.

The tentative agreement, which still will requires the approval of SEIU Local 99's membership, calls for wage increases of at least 3 percent for employees retroactive to July 2017. The union's announcement includes more details of the tentative agreement.

Below is the story that originally appeared on this post at the time it was published on Tues., May 8, at 3 p.m.:

Members of the Los Angeles Unified School District's teachers union will not cross picket lines on May 15 if the district's bus drivers, cafeteria workers, teacher aides and other "classified employees" go forward with their planned one-day strike.

Leaders of United Teachers Los Angeles announced Tuesday that teachers will hold a "sympathy strike" and not report for class at school sites if members of the classified employee's union, SEIU Local 99, are picketing there on May 15.

On school campuses where SEIU members are not picketing, teachers will still report for class, UTLA leaders said.

SEIU spokesperson Blanca Gallegos said her union's members plan to picket "hundreds" of school sites. It's still not clear at which schools these demonstrations will take place.

The teachers union's decision to join would deepen the impact of SEIU's work stoppage, which already promises to take L.A. Unified school buses off the road, disrupt regular cafeteria and custodial service and remove special education assistants who care for vulnerable students from the classroom.

"This is the teachers’ fight because educators and students depend on [classified employees] in schools every single day,"  said UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl.

"We’ve been getting massive feedback over the last month," Caputo-Pearl added, "from [UTLA] members saying that they want to stand with Local 99 members in fighting against these unfair labor practices. We feel like there’s been a very grassroots and democratic process to reach this decision."

The date of the one-day strike also happens to be the first day of work for newly-appointed superintendent Austin Beutner. SEIU leaders have said the timing is a coincidence. Caputo-Pearl also said in an interview Tuesday that UTLA's participation is not connected to Beutner's first day.

SEIU members are staging the one-day strike over claims that district managers thwarted classified employees' union activities and cut hours for special education assistants in violation of their contract.

These allegations, or "unfair labor practice charges," have accumulated over the course of 16 months of contract talks between SEIU and L.A. Unified officials. SEIU employees have been working under an expired contract for much of the last year.

On Friday, district officials concluded there was no further progress to be made through those negotiations and formally declared an impasse. SEIU leaders disagree that an impasse is necessary.

The one-day strike is not technically connected to the progress of those contract talks; it's a response to SEIU's unfair labor practice charges against L.A. Unified. SEIU leaders have said only a resolution of those grievances could prevent their union from moving forward with the May 15 strike.

The district's impasse declaration, however, does increase the chances of an open-ended strike by SEIU members in the future. If a state agency agrees that the two sides have reached impasse, mediation would be the next step.