California News

Three-day strike at LAUSD hits low-paid staff and teachers’ paychecks

Carmen Marchany knows the three-day strike that shut down Los Angeles public schools is another blow to her already unstable finances. But the special education assistant still joined her colleagues on the picket line Wednesday morning outside South Gate High School, holding signs and singing in the rain.

“To miss three days is a lot,” said Marchany, whose husband died of COVID-19. “But I know the feeling of being uncomfortable.

“But we need to feel bad now so we can feel relief and a better future later,” she said. “That’s what we have to do.”

Thousands of Los Angeles Unified’s lowest-paid workers — teacher’s aides, like Marchany, as well as cafeteria workers, janitors, bus drivers and others — walked off the job Tuesday and aren’t being paid for the jobs. missed days. Service Employees International Union Local 99 is leading the strike over unfair labor practice allegations against the district.

The union is demanding a 30% wage increase, plus an additional $2 an hour for the lowest paid employees. Such increases would raise the average annual salary of members from $25,000 to $36,000.

United Teachers Los Angeles joined the walkout in solidarity, forcing officials to close schools in the district of 420,000 students.

Tears rolled down Marchany’s cheek as she spoke of the emotional and financial challenges of the strike.

“Last night I overheard a woman on the news say that continuing the strike was impractical because she was having trouble finding child care,” Marchany said. “Imagine struggling to deliver – period.”

She said it was difficult for her to support her family as her sole source of income, especially with low wages and rising inflation.

Marchany often picks up a “secondary agitation, but it shouldn’t be like that,” she said. “We love children but we also love our children.”

Marchany thinks it’s important to take a stand for a better future and appreciated the support from the community. One of his student’s parents asked him how they could help the strikers.

“She said, ‘I want the school to feel your absence,'” Marchany said. “And that meant the world to me.”

There is no strike fund to which members can apply for financial assistance, but the union strives to “provide limited assistance, including prepared meals for strikers and their families, as well as child care. food and community resources,” according to Local 99.

Some members of the teachers’ union have united in support of their colleagues, beyond joining them on the picket line, said Scott Mandel, a teacher at Pacoima Middle School.

Mandel, who serves as Los Angeles Valley East region president for the teachers’ union, said 20 teachers at Lorne Street Elementary School in Northridge raised about $800 for their Local 99 members.

“That’s what we do,” Mandel said Wednesday at Sun Valley Polytechnic Senior High School. “We all fight together.”

While the strike can become a burden, especially financially for many, Mandel called it necessary.

“Losing three days’ pay is an inconvenience for me,” Mandel said. “But losing three days pay for SEIU members is paying rent that month and putting food on their table. So how can I not be here to share the burden? »

At one point in his life, Eric Hernandez, who worked as a school janitor for 17 years, said he was forced to choose between sleep or increased stability.

He worked two jobs: managing buildings, grounds and custodial duties at James Monroe High School in North Hills, while taking evening shifts in his Target neighborhood.

But the lack of sleep “worn him out”, forcing him to leave Target and return to his one-time salary – and the anxiety it induces.

At a large rally on Wednesday, he carried a three-foot sign that read, “When the poop hits the fan, I won’t be there to clean it!” as he walked with crowds of union members at Lake Balboa.

“It’s unbelievable, but my salary hasn’t increased much since I started,” the 43-year-old said. “Guys who start tomorrow only earn a little less than me.”

Hernandez said he recently had to change his diet to deal with soaring food prices. Every other day, he eats “25-cent ramen and an egg” to cut costs. He is taking a tougher approach during this three-day strike.

“I just cut meals and not eat,” he said. “One meal a day should be enough.”

Hernandez pleaded with parents in the district who were frustrated having to rearrange their lives to accommodate the strike.

“We’re hoping they’ll just get us out of this,” Hernandez said. “We have staff and teachers here and we all try to be paid fairly.”

Pacoima resident Amelia Mendoza took a much-loved turn of friends for the rainy Wednesday afternoon rally at Lake Balboa. The ride saved Mendoza, a school climate advocate at the Valley Oaks Center for Enriched Studies in Sun Valley, valuable money on gas.

“What saved me was my tax refund,” she said. “It will help me pay the rent and the groceries and take care of my family. Without it, I would be in trouble.

At 26, Mendoza is the sole breadwinner for a family of four, which includes her parents and a younger brother.

She said she was also trying to complete her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Cal State Northridge, which prevents her from taking a second job.

“I’m just above the poverty line,” she said of her $34,000-a-year salary.

Mendoza marched on Wednesday because she said she enjoys helping out on campus: helping students talk through fights using conflict resolution or getting used to the classroom again after prolonged illness, such as COVID-19. .

She says she provides “a place where students feel safe.” However, she feels financially at the end of her tether.

“I don’t understand the priorities of this district,” she said. There are “thousands of janitors, bus drivers and lunch workers who need help to survive and it feels like they’re being ignored”.

Some days, Mendoza skips lunch to cut costs or eats “99-cent ramen,” while riding his bike to work or taking the bus as gas prices soar.

“It’s my life, just scratching my way out,” she said. “It’s really difficult.”

Writer Howard Blume contributed to this report.

California Daily Newspapers

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