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L.A. Unified school bus drivers and teacher assistants are planning a daylong strike

L.A. Unified school bus drivers and teacher assistants are planning a daylong strike
Los Angeles Unified students board a bus in front of Franklin High School in 2015. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The union that represents 30,000 Los Angeles Unified School District support staff workers is planning a strike on May 15 over what its leaders have called unfair labor practices.

After more than a year of negotiations, the two sides have been unable to agree on a contract for unionized school bus drivers, custodians, special education assistants, teacher assistants, health aides and cafeteria workers. Union leaders said that while negotiations were underway, the district "made unilateral changes to working conditions" outside of collective bargaining.

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That includes cutting the hours of more than 125 special education assistants by at least an hour a day without notifying the union, said Max Arias, executive director of Service Employees International Union Local 99, which represents about 30,000 school district employees. He also said LAUSD officials interfered with a strike authorization vote and are making it difficult for union leaders to join a safety committee.

"We are going to engage in a 24-hour strike May 15 to demand an end to these unfair practices and that the district respect our rights," Arias said. "Our members want it to stop."

Union members voted last month to authorize the bargaining committee to call a strike if it thought one was necessary. About 94% of the more than 11,000 workers who cast a vote supported the move, Arias said.

"They've made staffing cuts and changes without speaking with those of us who do the work," Tanya Walters, a school bus driver and union vice president, said in a statement. "We don't want to strike, but we will move forward on May 15 if the district continues to disrespect our voices and disregard our work."

District officials disputed the union's points. They said a strike would be unlawful because the Public Employment Relations Board has not yet made a determination about the union's charges that workers have faced unfair labor practices.

"The district respects Local 99 and values them and all the members they represent, but we disagree with this tactic they're taking," said Najeeb Khoury, LAUSD's director of labor relations.

He said it's the district's longstanding practice to adjust special education aides each year based on changes in the student body, which affects the workload from school to school.

The incident that the union alleged interfered with the union's strike vote, Khoury said, involved a school principal who asked an employee to remove strike-related material from a bulletin board. He called it an isolated incident that happened without the knowledge of anyone in the district's central office.

Khoury said the union's third complaint involved a safety committee that reviews workplace accident reports. The district said that a union leader who sits on the committee can't also serve as a representative for a worker whose actions are under review, he said.

"We don't think these actions justify an unfair labor practice strike," Khoury said.

Twitter: @AleneTchek

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