Los Angeles School District Employees Strike for Improved Compensation
Workspan Daily
March 23, 2023
Key Takeaways

  • Los Angeles school district strikes. Nearly 30,000 employees in the Los Angeles Unified School District began a three-day strike on Tuesday in hopes of receiving better compensation.  
  • A growing trend. The strike underscores a growing trend of union activity in the U.S. amid a tight labor market and fickle economic conditions. There’s been a particular increase in union activity in the public sector, especially among education workers.  
  • Employer actions. Employers can avoid union activity by providing competitive total rewards packages and a great employee experience to demonstrate the value of not unionizing.   

Nearly 30,000 employees in the Los Angeles Unified School District on Tuesday began a planned three-day strike in hopes of receiving better compensation.  

The work stoppage, which forced the closure of hundreds of schools for an estimated 500,000 students, is the most pronounced union action in recent years in the United States and continues a trend of employees leveraging their power amid a tight labor market to secure better pay and benefits.  

Members of the Local 99 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) are seeking a 30% pay raise, plus an additional $2 an hour over the next four years and increased employment hours for part-time workers.  

According to the Associated Press, SEIU members have been working without a contract since June 2020, while the contract for teachers expired in June 2022. The unions decided last week to stop accepting extensions to their contracts. Teachers previously went on six-day strike in 2019 over pay and contract issues but schools remained open. 

The latest offer from the Los Angeles school district on Monday included a 23% recurring pay increase, plus a 3% cash-in-hand bonus, $20 per hour minimum wage and full healthcare benefits for those working at least four hours a day.   

A Growing Trend  

According to the National Labor Relations Board, union election petitions in 2022 increased 53% from the previous year — the highest number since 2016. Public support for organized labor is at a 50-year high in the U.S., according to a Gallup poll.  

Mark Neuberger, an employment law attorney at Foley & Lardner LLP, told Workspan Daily in January that there are five primary causes for increased union activity:  

  • Chronic wage disparities   
  • High inflation   
  • General economic and political insecurity   
  • Greater awareness of workers   

While there has no doubt been a market correction in some sectors, with an increase in layoffs and hiring freezes signaling a slight change in the power dynamic between employers and employees, the same doesn’t necessarily apply to government jobs, particularly when it comes to education workers.  

Public companies see far more union members than privately owned companies. According to the Wall Street Journal, as of 2022, just 6% of private-sector employees were in a union compared to 33% of public-sector employees.   

Additionally, strikes among teachers and education workers have become increasingly common over the past six years, a reflection of widespread employee frustration with low wages, poor working conditions and growing income inequality, Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center told the New York Times

“There’s tremendous discontent among working people that this isn’t working for them,” Wong said. “The rise in worker organizing and the rise in worker strikes is absolutely a sign of the times.”  

Ken Jacobs, chair of the University of California, Berkeley, Labor Center, said that if a recession occurs, “...it increases the potential for some fairly intense labor conflicts” as employees continue fighting back. Meanwhile, several experts have predicted that 2023 will be the year of worker strikes.  

Employer Takeaways 

Organizations can eschew union activity by providing attractive total rewards packages and focusing on the overall employee experience. Additionally, Neuberger said it’s important to demonstrate to employees the value of refraining from unionizing.  

“Treat your workers fairly and honestly and communicate with them like they are people, not a fungible good or tool,” he said. “First- and second-line supervision are the weakest link in most companies. If that is true for your organization, fix it through proper training and recruitment.  

“Remember, any union has to show workers they have something of value to offer in exchange for union dues. Make your employees see they are better off without a union.” 

In addition, one of the downstream effects of the Los Angeles school district strike were the thousands of parents who suddenly became burdened with childcare responsibilities during the day.  

Employers of parents  affected by the work stoppage that utilized an empathetic approach, such as accommodating flexible work schedules or work-from-home arrangements, or last-minute childcare options, are likely to reap short- and long-term benefits in meeting employees where they are.  

“Ultimately, this gets to, what kind of employer do you want to be, and it’s really about culture,” said Devjani Mishra, employment law attorney and shareholder at Littler Mendelson P.C. “Are we the kind of place that demands everybody be here and follows this set of rules or the type of place that provides flexibility?”   

Editor's Note: Additional Content 

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