CNN New York --
Although the strike in Los Angeles that saw about half-million students absent from school for three days last week was over, it ended even before the union announced a tentative labor agreement late Friday. The union's success is yet another indication of why strikes of this nature are growing nationwide.
Americans tend to think of a strike in the following way: workers walk out during negotiations and don't return to work until there is a deal. Sometimes, it can take weeks or even months.
This was not the case for the three-day strike of 30,000 school custodians and cafeteria workers, bus drivers, and other student services staff members of Service Employees International Union Local 99 in Los Angeles schools. The union declared that they would resume work on Friday regardless of what happens at the bargaining table and went on strike on Tuesday. They were back at work a day after the announcement of the deal.
According to the union, the agreement will provide a 30% increase in pay, bringing the average annual salary of its members up to $33,000 from $25,000 and retroactive pay between $4,000 and $8,000 per worker.
According to a union statement, the agreement addresses key demands and puts us on a clear path to improving our livelihoods as well as securing the staffing needed to improve student services. This agreement was made possible by the dedication of members to earning respect from the District. LA Unified School District released a statement applauding the agreement. It must be ratified in rank-and-file before it is allowed to take effect.
Technically, the strike was to protest school district labor practices and not the state of contract negotiations. This is the trend in the United States with a rising number of strikes - not necessarily to win contracts immediately, but to voice union grievances to the general public and flex their muscles to increase pressure on management.
Todd Vachon, Rutgers University professor of labor studies, said that strikes of this type are a tactical tool. They might be building towards a bigger future action. Many activists are beginning to see the value of these strikes. A glimpse of what a strike feels like can ignite a flame under negotiations. These short strikes will be increasingly seen as a tool.
According to Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations data, two-thirds of US strikes in the last year were less than five days. This is according to the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations which tracks work stopspages. Nearly half of those strikes lasted less than a day. Both strikers as well as management knew the duration of these short strikes at the beginning.
According to Cornell's data, strikes lasting less than five days increased 78% last year to 282 from 158 in 2021. This is roughly five strikes per week. During this time, strikes lasting more than five days increased by just 16% to 13,5.
Johnnie Kallas is a Cornell PhD student and the project director for the school's strike databank. He said that short-term strikes may not always get union members what they want. He said that there are many examples of strikers receiving the contract they desire a few months or weeks later. He mentioned a three-day, fixed-term strike by Minnesota nurses in September that resulted in a contract by December.
Kallas stated that he hesitated to declare that the transformation was complete. We could see an open-ended, unrestrained strike by 350,000 Teamsters at UPS (UPS), later in the year, or at one Big Three automakers. These [short, fixed-term strikes] are becoming more common.
Short-term strikers often don't have much to show for their actions, at least not in the immediate future. Since last November, thousands of Starbucks Workers United union members have waged a series of strikes at Starbucks locations across the country. However, the union has not reached a tentative labor agreement for any of the more 200 stores it represents.
Sometimes, the strike-waging union doesn't have the option to strike openly, or at least not at the time.
This week's Los Angeles school strike was also known as an "unfair labor practice" strike. It was meant to highlight the union's accusations of mistreatment of its members. It also happened at a time workers are trying to get significantly higher wages, and better benefits.
Lester Garcia, the union's government relations director, stated that he hoped the strike would help (negotiations) earlier in the week, while the strike was still ongoing. This statement came before Friday's tentative labor agreement. He said that a strike to seek a better contract was not permitted under California's labor law. Garcia stated that the strike was a way to draw attention to the low wages his members are receiving and other demands.
"Most people don’t think about their members when they think of a school. He said that they think about principals and teachers, not food service workers or custodians. This attention brings dignity and respect to our members.
It also reduces the cost of lost wages for strikers. Strikers may be eligible for state unemployment benefits, but workers on strike don't receive any.
Garcia stated that Garcia believes the less work you lose, Garcia is better. Although three days without pay might not seem like much, it is still significant. A three-day strike can be a significant sacrifice if you make $14,000 per year and live paycheck to paycheck.