Los Angeles Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho interacts with students in a classroom at Marlton School in Los Angeles on August 15. File Photo by Etienne Laurent/EPA-EFE
March 21 (UPI) -- The country's second-largest school district, based in Los Angeles, closed Tuesday as support workers with the Service Employees International Union launched a three-day strike over pay.
The SEIU, which represents some 30,000 support workers, from teacher's aides and cafeteria workers to bus drivers, said many of its members live in poverty because of pay of about $25,000 per year in Los Angeles.
The union is asking for a 30% raise. The Los Angeles Unified School District said it has responded by offering what it called a "historic" 23% recurring raise and a 3% cash bonus.
The local teacher's union is also seeking a 20% raise over two years, and its teachers are striking in solidarity with the support workers, essentially forcing schools in the district, which serves some 600,000 students in 1,000 schools, to close.
Negotiations have dragged on for about a year with more than 95% of union members voting to authorize a strike last month if talks didn't progress.
Los Angeles Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said his team is available for negotiations and suggested the union has refused to come to the table.
"I made myself available alongside my team for hours [Monday], hoping that we would, in fact, be able to have a conversation for a whole host of reasons, some of which I do not understand," Carvalho said at a press conference. "We were never in the same room, or even in the same building."
SEIU Local 99 Executive Director Max Arias on Monday accused the district of violating the "confidential mediation process" by discussing differences with the media before them.
"This is yet another example of the school district's continued disrespect of school workers," Arias said in a statement. "We are ready to strike. We want to be clear that we are not in negotiations with LAUSD. We continue to be engaged in the impasse process with the state."