The three-day school strike in Los Angeles is over. But get used to short disruptive strikes like this

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The Los Angeles school strike that kept around half a million students out of class for three days last week has ended, but it happened before the union even announced a provisional work contract on Friday evening. Yet the union’s success is another sign of why short-term strikes like this are on the rise across the country.

Americans generally think of a strike as one that begins with workers leaving during negotiations and does not return to work until there is an agreement, sometimes weeks or months later or even longer. .

That was not the case with the three-day strike by 30,000 school custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and other student services staff who are members of Service Employees International Union Local 99. in Los Angeles schools. The union went on strike on Tuesday, announcing its intention to return to work on Friday regardless of what happens at the bargaining table. And they were back at work basically a full day before the deal was announced.

The union said the deal would provide a 30% wage increase, raising its members’ average annual salary from $25,000 to $33,000, as well as retroactive pay of between $4,000 and $8,000. per worker.

“The agreement addresses our key demands and puts us on a clear path to improving our livelihoods and securing the staff we need to improve student services,” the union said in a statement. “It is the members’ dedication to earning the respect of the district that has made this agreement possible.” The LA Unified School District also released a statement praising the agreement, which must be ratified by the ranks before it can go into effect.

But technically, it was a strike to protest the school district’s labor practices, not the state of contract negotiations. And so are a growing number of strikes across the country – not necessarily to win a contract immediately but to voice a union’s grievances to the public, flex its muscles and thus increase the pressure on management.

“Strikes like this are a tactical tool,” said Todd Vachon, professor of social studies at Rutgers University. “They could be building towards a more important future action. I think a lot of activists are discovering the effectiveness of these strikes. Just a taste of what a strike can look like can light a fire during the negotiation. I think we’re going to see these short strikes more and more as a tool.

Two-thirds of strikes in the United States last year lasted less than five days, according to data from the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations, which tracks work stoppages. And almost half only lasted a day – or less. Most of these short strikes began when the strikers and management knew how long the strike would last.

Strikes lasting less than five days jumped 78% last year, from 158 in 2021 to 282, according to Cornell data. That’s about five strikes a week. Meanwhile, strikes lasting five days or more rose just 16% to 135.

Short-term strikes don’t necessarily get union members what they want right away, as it did in this case, said Johnnie Kallas, a Cornell doctoral candidate and grassroots project director. data on school strikes. But he added that there are many examples of strikers getting the contract they want weeks or months later. He cited a three-day fixed-term strike in September by 15,000 Minnesota nurses that led to a contract in December.

“I hesitate to say that it is a total transformation,” Kallas said. “We could see an indefinite strike of 350,000 Teamsters at UPS (UPS) later this year or at any of the big three automakers. But such strikes (short-term and fixed-term) are becoming more and more common.

Many short-term strikers have nothing to show for their walkouts, at least in the short term. Thousands of Starbucks Workers United union members have waged a series of one-day strikes at Starbucks locations they have organized nationwide since last November, but the union has yet to reach a settlement agreement. temporary work for one of the more than 200 stores where he represents workers.

Sometimes the union call the strike does not have the possibility, at least not at this time, to have an indefinite strike.

The Los Angeles school strike last week was called an “unfair labor practice” strike to underscore what the union accuses of mistreating its members and officers. But it also came at a time when workers are trying to earn significantly higher salaries and better benefits.

“We hope this will help (negotiations),” Lester Garcia, government relations director for the union, said earlier this week as the strike was underway, ahead of Friday’s tentative labor agreement. But he said a strike to try to get a better contract is not allowed under labor law covering California public school employees at this stage of negotiations. However, Garcia said the strike draws attention to the low wages its members receive and other grievances.

“Most people don’t think of our members when they think of a school. They think of teachers or principals, not babysitters or food service workers,” he said. “This attention helps our members by bringing them dignity and respect.

And it also limits the costs of lost wages for the strikers. Striking workers sometimes receive strike pay, but they are not eligible for unemployment benefits from their state.

“The fewer workdays you lose, the better,” Garcia said. “But make no mistake, three days of lost wages may not seem like a lot. But if you’re making $14,000 a year and living paycheck after paycheck, a three-day strike is a sacrifice.


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