Tens of thousands of union workers in the Los Angeles Unified School District started walking the picket lines Tuesday over failed contract negotiations, starting a three-day strike that shut down the nation’s second-largest school system.

Demonstrators started picketing in the rain as early as 5:30 a.m. at LAUSD’s Van Nuys bus yard. Workers and supporters also demonstrated outside public schools, and thousands participated in a large rally at LAUSD headquarters in Westlake.

LAUSD Strike: resources for parents & students

Liev Kaplan, 6, marched with his mom, Tiffany, an adaptive physical education teacher. “We want to fight for everyone so they can have fair pay,” the first-grader said. His dad teaches math. “We are an education family,” Tiffany Kaplan said. “But we can’t educate if the kids are not fed … if they’re not feeling safe. We have to support our support staff.”

Thousands gathered outside LAUSD headquarters in Westlake on Day 1 of a workers' strike on March 21, 2023. (KTLA)
Thousands gathered outside LAUSD headquarters in Westlake on Day 1 of a workers’ strike on March 21, 2023. (KTLA)

The strike, which had been in the works for several weeks, includes the support of as many as 60,000 members of the Local 99 of Service Employees International Union and United Teachers Los Angeles.

At the center of the dispute is SEIU’s demand for higher wages.

The union says district support staffers earn, on average, about $25,000 per year and many live in poverty because of low pay or limited work hours while struggling with inflation and the high cost of housing in Los Angeles County. The union is asking for a 30% raise. Teachers want a 20% pay hike over two years.

UTLA is involved in a separate wage dispute, but its union leaders said it would honor the other union’s stoppage and stand with fellow school district employees.

Monica Vieira is one of those teachers showing her support.

“They are the people who make our schools run. Our schools are dirty because we can’t keep them staffed. Our children deserve better than this, these people deserve better than this, we have to be here to support them,” Vieira said. “Parents, we have to take care of these people, we have to take care of them because they take care of our babies.”

Another teacher, Canek Peña-Vargas, said he is demonstrating in solidarity to make sure the striking workers are able to live “dignified lives,” indicating that their wages are “quite a bit lower than the poverty line.”

“We feel that those folks — as frontline workers who fed our families during the pandemic, who kept everyone safe — they also deserve to keep their families safe,” Peña-Vargas said. “We’re proud to be standing side-by-side with them.”

Los Angeles School Strike
English teachers with United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) join the Los Angeles Unified School District, LAUSD teachers and Service Employees International Union 99 (SEIU) members picketing outside the Evans Community Adult School in Los Angeles, Tuesday, March 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

LAUSD’s position

LAUSD Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho said the district has offered a “historic proposal” of wage increases totaling more than 20% over a multiyear period, along with a 3% bonus.

“We remain ready to return to negotiations with SEUI Local 99 so we can provide an equitable contract to our hardworking employees and get our students back in classrooms,” Carvalho tweeted Tuesday. “This offer addresses the needs and concerns from the union, while also remaining fiscally responsible and keeping the District in a financially stable position.”

Impact on families

Los Angeles Unified is the second-largest school district in the nation and it’s estimated that roughly half a million students and their families are impacted by the strike. The closure of schools has left many parents scrambling to make arrangements for their children.

The school district has released a list of resources for families during the three-day strike, including information about student supervision and meal pickups.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass said some city parks and recreation centers would be opened to serve as after-school program centers.

“I will make sure the wellbeing of L.A. students always comes first as I continue to work with all parties to reach an agreement to reopen the schools and guarantee fair treatment of all LAUSD workers,” Bass said in a statement Tuesday.

The Los Angeles Zoo is also offering free admission and a “Community Safari Day” for elementary students affected by the shutdown.

A full list of resources available throughout the LAUSD strike can be found here.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.