Thousands of cafeteria workers, bus drivers, custodians, special education assistants and other school workers in the Los Angeles Unified School District have voted to authorize their bargaining committee to call a strike if necessary, union officials announced.
Some 94 percent of the membership voted to support a strike, officials with Service Employees International Union Local 99 said Saturday.
Between March 12 and April 13, thousands of non-instruction school employees cast their votes at more than 700 LAUSD sites including schools, special education centers and early education centers.
The results mean that if there is no significant movement in negotiations with the District by April 30, SEIU Local 99's bargaining team will be prepared to begin the strike process, according to union officials.
"We will let the District know that the members of Local 99 have spoken and we're ready to strike -- for fair wages, for more staffing, for respect," Local president Conrado Guerrero said in a statement on the union's website. "We should all be proud of the courageous step we've just taken together."
District officials could not be reached for comment on the strike authorization.
Members of SEIU Local 99 have been in contract negotiations with the District since March 2017 but no significant movement has been made on key issues, including wages and staffing shortages, according to Guerrero, a building engineer with LAUSD.
Union members have pushed for increased staffing of custodians, accusing the District of "knowingly" operating at substandard staffing levels for custodians, resulting in dirty schools and locked bathrooms. By the District's own admission, schools are staffed at 50 percent of the necessary levels, Guerrero said.
"The dedicated school workers who transport students safely to school, feed them, support their classroom learning, and keep their classrooms and playgrounds clean have made our voices heard," Guerrero said. "We are tired of this school district dismissing and devaluing our work. We are an essential part of student learning and if it takes a strike for LAUSD to understand that, we're ready to take action."
Wages have also been a key bargaining issue. During the strike vote, District officials increased their proposed wage hike from 2 to 3 percent including a pledge of extra work and/or training starting in the 2018-19 school year.
"It's a minor increase to the District's 2 percent offer, which had been on the table for nearly a year," said Max Arias, the union's executive director. "It's a step in the right direction but it's not enough. A majority of school workers are also parents of LAUSD students. The District's insistence on low wage, part-time work has a direct impact on students as their parents struggle to pay rent and put food on the table."
SEIU Local 99 has filed charges against the District with the Public Employment Relations Board to protest alleged threats and harassment of union members. This includes allegedly denying access to some strike voting sites in addition to charges previously filed for bad faith bargaining, according to union officials.
The District's chief negotiator, Najeeb Khoury has said LAUSD's financial constraints have hindered the process.
"We're in a place where it's very difficult for us to increase our cost of labor -- the amount of money that it costs per employee here," Khoury told reporters earlier this year. "We value SEIU Local 99 as a labor partner and look forward to collaboratively finding solutions together."
Union officials said they are also looking for solutions, including the possible strike.
"We're committed to continuing to negotiate with the District to avert a strike, but we will begin preparations for a possible strike immediately," said Tanya Walters, SEIU Local 99 vice president and a District bus driver. "We're ready to strike if no other path forward can be found. This is about making sure every LAUSD student attends a healthy, clean and supportive school. It's about ensuring that school workers who are devoted to student learning can provide for their own children."