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    What is the living wage LAUSD workers are striking for?
    • March 23, 2023

    How much is enough?

    If you ask the LAUSD workers who have staged a three-day strike this week for better pay, hours and working conditions, they’ll say “enough” is clearly more than they’re earning.

    SEIU Local 99, which represents the 30,000 Los Angeles Unified School District employees, wants to elevate their pay to a living wage. Union officials say they’ve been negotiating with the district for months with little progress.

    Pay levels vary among the bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers and special education assistants who walked off the job, depending on tenure and hours worked. But the average employee wage — which takes in many who work part-time schedules — is $25,000 a year, according to the union.

    That equates to $12.02 an hour without vacation time. And it’s not nearly enough, according to the MIT Living Wage Calculator.

    The Massachusetts Institute of Technology tool was developed to help communities and employers calculate local wage rates, allowing residents to meet minimum standards of living.

    The minimum wage for a single adult in Los Angeles County with up to three children is $15.50 an hour, or $32,240 a year, the calculator says, while the county’s “living wage” for a single adult with one child is $43.81 an hour, or $87,620 a year.

    In households with two adults and one working with no children the living wage is $32.46 an hour. That jumps to $40.74 with one child and $45.69 with two children.

    In households with two working adults and no children the living wage for each adult is $16.23 an hour, the calculator says. In households with one child that jumps to $23.98 an hour, and $30.15 an hour for households with two children.

    Yolanda Cota works 30 hours a week and earns $24 an hour as a special education assistant. But she’s off during the summer months, which eats heavily into the income she needs to pay for rent, groceries and utilities.

    “The $24 an hour I earn is the cap … and I also have two kids,” the 39-year-old Sylmar resident said. “I’m paying $1,700 a month in rent, and I also spend about $400 a month on gas and groceries. Everything is going up, and that doesn’t count my car payment, insurance on the car and all of the other expenses I have.”

    Her husband also works, bringing in additional income, Cota said.

    “Before I was married, I was also waitressing to help pay the bills,” she said. “Many of the employees have to work two jobs to get by. I’d like to be working 40 hours a week.”

    Alec Levenson, a research scientist with the Center for Effective Organizations at the USC Marshall School of Business, said workers employed by school districts are operating in a workplace dynamic that was developed 70 years ago when readily people accepted the jobs as part-time work to supplement a spouse’s income.

    “There’s a challenge there because as a society we think people should be paid on the basis of how much they work, which is reasonable,” he said. “But it can be hard for someone to take a part-time job and then try to fill in the gaps.”

    The LAUSD employee woes speak to the struggle of keeping up with Southern California’s ever-increasing costs. Many are strapped by high housing costs, rising gas prices and inflation-weighted trips to the grocery store.

    CoreLogic said high home prices are edging many prospective buyers out of the market. In February, the median price for a home in the six-county region was $690,000, and Los Angeles County’s median price was $765,000 — well out of reach for many prospective buyers.

    “High mortgage rates and the resulting eroded affordability continue to challenge Southern California housing markets,” Selma Hepp, CoreLogic’s chief economist, said in a statement earlier this month.

    SEIU Local 99 is seeking a 30% pay hike over time, more reliable hours for part-time workers and a crackdown against employee harassment. The district’s latest offer was a 23% wage hike over the next few years with a 3% retention bonus.

    Lynneier Boyd-Peterson, who has been a bus driver with LAUSD for 31 years, makes $29.70 an hour. But she also works just nine months a year. That three-month summer gap and the three weeks schools are closed during the holidays make a difference, she said.

    “Some of our bus drivers are homeless,” the 47-year-old Lancaster resident said. “They’re sleeping in their cars. We used to have cookouts at the yard where the buses park so those people could get some food, but the school district won’t let us do that anymore. That stopped five years ago.”

    Members of the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, have joined the striking workers in solidarity.

    Boyd-Peterson said some bus drivers can work occasional routes during the summer if they’re available, but there’s never a guarantee.

    “What I’d really like to get is respect,” she said. “Many times, management doesn’t respond to us as individuals, and they talk down to us like we’re nothing.”

    ​ Orange County Register