Photo Courtesy of SEIU Local 99

Photos from recent informational picketing SEIU Local 99 members led in the San Fernando Valley.

The 30,000 membership of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 99 had planned a 24-hour strike on May 15   of all Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools for what it terms “unfair labor practices,” as well as contract talks that had dragged on for 16 months but appeared to have broken down.

But that now seems to have been resolved. The two sides reached a tentative three-year agreement Tuesday night, May 8, following an emergency bargaining session.

Local 99 represents such district employees as school bus drivers, custodial workers, special education assistants, teachers’ assistants, food service workers and truck drivers, union spokeswoman Blanca Gallegos said. 

The new contract provides a 6 percent wage increase over two years, and a wage reopened for year three. There is a 3 percent wage hike retroactive  to July 1, 2017 when both sides ratify the contract. A 3 percent wage supplement —also effective as of July 1, 2017 — becomes an ongoing raise if the district is in good financial shape.

That means, according to the union’s website, that for every hour worked in 2018-2019 school year, the membership would get a 3 percent raise. In March of 2019, if the district has a positive projection on its budget, then the raise remains. If both sides disagree with projections, the issue can be submitted to arbitration.

Should that happen, the union said it would reopen the contract to bargain over the Year 2 wages.

“Our members are proud of the work they do every day on the front lines of educating our students,” said SEIU Local 99 Executive Director Max Arias, after the agreement was announced.

“We feel this is a great step from L.A. Unified in recognizing our contributions to the district. We look forward to improving educational outcomes, as well as the wages and working conditions of classified employees.”

The membership must still vote on the new contract. A ratification voting schedule had not yet been determined as of Wednesday, May 9. But the union’s bargaining team is recommending a “yes’ vote on the website.

Arleta resident Jaime Medellin, who works as a special education assistant at Kennedy High School — and who has been a district employee 18 years — said he planned to vote in favor of the deal.

“Truth be told I had to read it a couple of times to make sure I understood what it was saying. But now that I’ve read it, the deal seems to be fairly good especially for us,” Medellin said.

“What I liked most was the fact the district has decided to start training some of the [special education assistants] better, with regards to behavior implementation and prevention, so they don’t have to go to outside contractors. There is also anti-bullying language put in for the employees. Whether you’re probationary, a short-term or a long-term, [the district] can’t intimidate us either for participating in union activities or joining, or working over your set times.”

District officials released a statement late Tuesday in praise of new contract.

“Thank you to the SEIU Local 99 and our District’s labor team for coming to a tentative agreement this evening,” said Interim Superintendent Vivian Ekchian. “We worked diligently with SEIU Local 99 leadership to arrive at a long-term solution that meets the needs of our students and employees.”

Added board president Mónica García, “I am grateful to all of the people involved and especially the bargaining teams. They continued to work endless hours to find a solution that will allow our schools to continue operating smoothly, while advancing the respect and dignity of those who work so hard to serve our students well.”

The tone this time among all parties was much more conciliatory  than a few days ago.

On May 4, district negotiators declared an “impasse” after 16 months of contract talks, this was the “last, best and final offer,” which union negotiators rejected.

The district would seek formal mediation. SEIU announced it would hold a one-day strike on May 15 — which coincided with the first day at work for newly appointed District Superintendent Austin Beutner. The union also filed an “unfair labor practices” charge against the district with the state Public Employment Relations Board.

Local 99 got an added boost with the backing of the Teamster’s Union, and the United Teachers of Los Angeles, which said their members would not cross picket lines on May 15 where SEIU members worked and/or demonstrated.

But now all that has gone away.

Union negotiator Tanya Walters, a 28-year school bus driver for the district and Local 99 vice president, said district negotiators reached out to them on Tuesday for another bargaining session. Both sides went back and forth from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m., and came out with a deal.

“It was worth it. This is a beginning. But a great beginning,” Walters said. “We’ve been waiting to receive something to acknowledge our hard work. I believe this is the first step that we are out here and are a valuable constituent of the school district. This is appreciation and respect to what we bring to the table. We’re definitely recommending a ‘yes’ vote.”

Walters added that LAUSD board members Garcia and Richard Vladovic stopped by and offered encouragement.

“They acknowledged they did us wrong in the past,” Walters said. “We’re moving in a great direction.”

Medellin, for one, believes so,

“The union was in a stronger position to negotiate this time,” he said. “This was the first time where SEIU has gotten to a point where a strike vote was passed, and an upcoming strike date was passed.

“I’m glad we don’t have to strike. My co-workers and I were prepared. We did not want to, but we were prepared.”