LAUSD Strike sheds light on the growing challenges of life in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES — Since Tuesday, Diana Cruz has been juggling her work at home as an executive assistant and looking after her children after a Los Angeles school strike 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 shares 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 supplements her income by caring for an older woman and doing her hair.

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

Parents see their lives mirrored in the struggles of bus drivers, cafeteria workers and teacher’s aides who walk the picket lines – working-class residents who work multiple jobs to survive in South America. California.

“If you’re not earning huge six-figure salaries, then, yeah, it’s tough,” said Ms Cruz, 33. “How not to support their cause?

The strike clearly illustrated the economic divide in modern Los Angeles, where low-wage workers can barely catch up on their rent while affluent professionals a few blocks away are willing to pay $13 for a coconut smoothie . In this case, the school district’s working-class parents and school workers are on the same side of the divide.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest in the nation, has tens of thousands of staff struggling to meet rising costs in a state that is short on housing. Most of the families they serve are in the same boat, with 89% of households in the district considered economically disadvantaged, according to district data.

Housing is the single largest expense for residents of the Los Angeles area, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Residents spend 38% of their annual spending on housing, compared to a national average of about 34%, according to the agency.

“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 like housing, security, health care and food,” said Kyla Thomas, a sociologist at the University of Southern California. Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research. “Many in Los Angeles are living on the brink of crisis.”

LABarometer, a survey conducted by the Dornsife Center to track social conditions and attitudes in the area, found that around 60% of local tenants were “rent overburdened”, meaning they spend more than 30% of the household income to housing.

Griselda Perez, 51, said her family struggled to pay her $2,000 rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the Boyle Heights neighborhood. Her eldest son, 20, shares a room with his two younger brothers, 11 and 9, who attend district schools. Every day, she says, the family feels the pressure of gentrification, as more people with higher incomes move east from the city center.

Ms Perez said she tried to explain the strike to her sons by comparing their situation – they can’t afford birthday parties and trips to Disneyland – to the challenges faced by people working in their schools.

“When I see the cafeteria workers, when I see the lady at the front door, when I see the lady working at the parent center, we’re talking mom to mom,” she said. “The struggles they have are the same struggles we have.”

The walkout continued Wednesday with picket lines at schools and campus facilities, including at district headquarters in downtown Los Angeles. School support workers were joined by the district’s 35,000 teachers in the work stoppage. The strike is expected to end Thursday.

Local 99 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents 30,000 Los Angeles Unified support workers, said half of its members who responded to a 2022 internal survey said they had held second jobs.

The union also said its members earned an average of $25,000 a year — a figure that Los Angeles Unified officials said included both part-time and full-time employees. Average full-time salaries were unclear.

The union noted that 64% of its members were Latino and 20% were black. The families they serve are also overwhelmingly Latino, about 74%, a consequence of major migration and demographic trends.

Austin Beutner, who served as district superintendent during the coronavirus pandemic, said a large majority of parents understood the plight of Local 99 members because they lived in the same neighborhoods. He said the half-dozen principals he spoke to on Tuesday said they were seeing overwhelming support from parents for staff members.

“The intersection of school staff and the community is close and narrow,” Beutner said. “They are the community. Many of them have family members in schools or neighbors in schools.

Local 99 built on that support and tried to frame its contract battle as a fight for low-wage workers in Los Angeles. And parental support – for now – could help the union at the bargaining table.

The workers are demanding an overall 30% increase, plus an additional $2 an hour increase for the lowest paid employees. Union members have been working without a contract since 2020.

Alberto M. Carvalho, the current district superintendent, acknowledged the “historic inequities” workers have faced, in a statement Tuesday.

“I understand the frustration of our employees that has been simmering, not just for a few years, but probably for decades,” Mr. Carvalho said.

School districts cannot increase their revenues as quickly as private sector companies could by raising prices during a period of inflation. The District of Los Angeles depends on funds determined at the state level, and after years of growth, California is expected to run into a deficit in the coming fiscal year.

The district responded with a 23% salary increase, spread over several years, and a one-time bonus of 3%. Mr Carvalho said the latest proposal was intended to meet the needs of the union “while remaining financially responsible and keeping the district in a financially stable position”.

At a time when public support for organized labor is high, strikes by teachers and education workers have become increasingly common. Faced with rapid inflation and the prospect of higher wages in the private sector, public employees feel the need for radical change.

“Everyone else is getting raises. And U.S ? Jovita Padilla, a 40-year-old bus driver, said on Tuesday.

In a very poor neighborhood like Los Angeles Unified, school closures have not only interrupted classroom instruction, but also crucial school meals. The district provides free breakfast and lunch to everyone, regardless of income, and many children depend on these meals during the school week. With negotiations stalled, the district set up supervision sites where working parents could drop off their children, as well as places where families could pick up three days of breakfasts and lunches.

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

Ms Cruz, 44, said working as a receptionist at an estate agency 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 was hard to work,” she said.

Her family of five depends on her part-time job, which earns her $15 an hour. She works 30 hours a week. Her husband works full time in a restaurant and is paid minimum wage.

“Everything is so expensive,” she said.

The report was provided by Shawn Huber of Sacramento, and Corina Knoll And Ana Facio-Krajcer from Los Angeles. Susan C. Beachy contributed to the research.


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