The LAUSD strike highlights the growing challenges of life in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – Since Tuesday, Diana Cruz has juggled her stay-at-home job as an administrative assistant with caring for her children after a Los Angeles school strike forced them to cancel their classes for three days.

Mrs. Cruise makes $36,000 a year and is raising her two daughters and teenage son in a two-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles, where she shares $1,700 in rent with her mother.

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

Ms. Parents like Cruz may be confused by the strike, but some Ms. Angry at strikers like Reed.

Parents see their lives mirrored in the struggles of working-class residents in Southern California who work multiple jobs to survive — bus drivers, cafeteria workers and classroom aides.

“If you’re not making big six-figure salaries, yes, it’s hard,” said Ms. Cruz, 33. “How can you not support their cause?”

The strike sharply illustrates the economic divide in modern Los Angeles, where low-wage workers can’t afford to cut rent. In this case, the school district’s working-class parents and school staff are on the same side.

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 state short on housing. Most of the families they serve are in the same boat, with 89 percent of the district’s families qualifying as economically disadvantaged, according to district data.

According to the latest Labor Statistics data, housing is the biggest expense for people living in the Los Angeles area. According to the agency, residents allocate 38 percent of their annual spending on housing, compared to the national average of 34 percent.

“The high cost of living in Los Angeles permeates every aspect of life, and forces low-income people into impossible choices between basic needs like housing, safety, healthcare and food,” said Kyla Thomas, a sociologist at the University of Southern California. Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research. “Many people in LA are living on the brink of crisis.”

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Laparometer, a Census The Dornsif Center, which monitors social conditions and attitudes in the area, found that about 60 percent of local tenants are “rent-burdened.”

Griselda Perez, 51, said her family extended the $2,000 rent on a two-bedroom apartment in the Boyle Heights neighborhood. Her eldest son, 20, shares a room with two younger brothers, aged 11 and 9, who attend district schools. Every day, he said, the family feels the pressure of displacement as people with higher incomes move east from the city.

Ms. Perez said she tried to explain the strike by comparing her sons’ situation — which they enjoy with birthday parties and trips to Disneyland — with the challenges faced by working people at their schools.

“When I see the cafeteria staff, when I see the woman at the front door, when I see the woman working in the parent center, we’re talking mom to mom,” she said. “Their struggles are the same as ours.”

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

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

The union also said its members earned an average of $25,000 a year — which Los Angeles Unified officials said included part- and full-time employees. The full-time salary average is unclear.

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The union noted that 64 percent of its members are Latino and 20 percent are black. The families they serve are similarly Latino, about 74 percent, a development of broader migration and demographic trends.

Austin Buettner, who served as the district’s superintendent during the coronavirus pandemic, said most parents understood the plight of Local 99 members because they lived in the same neighborhoods. A half-dozen school principals he spoke to Tuesday said they’re seeing overwhelming support from parents for staff.

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

Local 99 leaned on that support, trying to frame its contract battle as a fight for low-wage workers across Los Angeles. Parental support – for now – may help the union at the negotiating table.

The workers are demanding a 30 percent raise overall and an additional $2 an hour for the lowest-paid workers. Union members have been working without a contract since 2020.

The current district superintendent, Alberto M. Carvalho acknowledged the “historic inequalities” faced by workers in a statement on Tuesday.

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

During a period of inflation private sector businesses cannot raise revenue quickly by increasing prices. The Los Angeles district relies on state-appropriated funds, and after years of growth, California is projected to face a deficit in the upcoming fiscal year. The school district also continues to lose students each year, which means it receives less money because funding is based on enrollment.

The district has received a 23 percent pay raise, spread over several years, and a 3 percent one-time bonus. Mr. Carvalho said the latest proposal seeks to address the union’s needs while being fiscally responsible and keeping the district financially stable.

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at a time Popular support for organized labor is high, strikes by teachers and academic staff have become increasingly common. With rapid inflation and the prospect of higher wages in the private sector, civil servants feel the need for drastic change.

“Everyone else gets a raise. What about us?” Jovita Padilla, a 40-year-old bus driver, said Tuesday.

In a high-poverty district like Los Angeles Unified, school closings cut not only classroom instruction, but critical school meals. The district provides free breakfast and lunch to all, regardless of income, and many children rely on those meals during the school week. As negotiations stalled, the district was created Monitoring sites Working parents can drop off children there, as well as families pick up three days’ worth of supplies Breakfast and lunch.

Gabriela Cruz, a district parent who is not related to Diana Cruz, dropped off at a distribution site and picked up a box of food this week, which she said was a big help. “My kids have 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 a real estate office on the first day of the strike was not easy. He had to take his young daughter and son to work.

“The truth is, it was hard to work,” he said.

Her family of five depends on her part-time job, which pays 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.

Reporting contributed Shawn Hubler from Sacramento, and Corinna Knoll And Ana Fazio-Krajzer From Los Angeles. Susan C. Peachy Research contributed.

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