School Employee Wages Lag Behind Cost of Living; Strike Concludes with a Wage Increase

Written by Diamond Thompson and Dr. Amy K. Glasmeier on 03/25/2023

On March 20, 2023, the Los Angeles Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 99 union (with the support of the Los Angeles Teacher's Union), representing 30,000 Los Angeles School District employees, started a three-day strike, demanding higher wages. SEIU employees, on average, make $25,000 per year and work multiple jobs. At $12 an hour, SEIU members need higher wages to sustain employee households. Referring to the MIT Living Wage Calculator, the living wage for a single adult in Los Angeles County is $21.22 an hour. For single adults with one child, it is $43.81 an hour. Los Angeles County's minimum wage is $15.50 an hour.

According to Alec Levenson, a research scientist at the Center for Effective Organizations at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, "Workers employed by school districts operate in a workplace where 70 years ago teachers and school employees considered teaching as part-time work meant to supplement a primary worker's salaried income" (Smith 2023). Today's part-time jobs rarely fill the gap between the cost of living and needed minimum wages.

During the strike, SEIU representatives stated that many of their members struggle to pay bills as prices for necessities continue to increase due to inflation in an already expensive Southern California market (Knoll, Hassan, and Hubler, 2023). Many SEIU members are also housing insecure. After a five-day strike, the union halted its action, and workers reached a tentative deal.

According to the New York Times, the resulting contract will yield retroactive pay raises over the next year. Additionally, the minimum wage for all workers will increase to $22.52 per hour. As of June 30, 2021, workers employed by the district will receive a one-time $1000 bonus. The updated wages reflect a 15 percent increase.

Knoll, Corina, Adeel Hassan, and Shawn Hubler. 2023. "Los Angeles Schools and 30,000 Workers Reach Tentative Deal After Strike." The New York Times, March 25, 2023, sec. U.S. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/24/us/los-angeles-schools-strike-deal.html.
Smith, Kevin. 2023. "What Is the Living Wage LAUSD Workers Are Striking For?" Daily News (blog). March 23, 2023. https://www.dailynews.com/2023/03/22/what-is-the-living-wage-lausd-workers-are-striking-for.