Democratic Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass is taking a hands-off approach to the city’s growing teacher strike, while fellow Democrats show a fondness for getting involved in Los Angeles’s educational system.
Bass, the newly-elected mayor of Los Angeles, is avoiding taking a public stance on the three-day teacher strike that began on Tuesday and has spurred massive disruptions to the school system and demonstrations. However, she said she is monitoring the situation and is actively involved in the behind-the-scenes work.
“I consider this of the utmost importance, and that is why I am personally engaged,” she told Politico.
While Bass was in Sacramento receiving an award from the Legislative Women’s Caucus, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who is running for California’s open Senate seat in 2024, was picketing outside in the rain alongside school workers. The Los Angeles Democratic Party has publicly supported the Service Employees International Union Local 99 as well.
However, Bass said she is not looking to make the strike about herself and does not want to disrupt the process.
“I’m a person that stays focused on the goal, and I keep my eyes on the prize,” the mayor told Politico. “I have no need to grandstand.”
Bass has made herself scarce in Los Angeles as teachers joined service workers in school protesting for better wages. But Schiff made a point to stand in the rain on Tuesday to call for an end to service workers earning “poverty” wages.
“The median income of our bus drivers and our cafeteria workers and our school aides is $25,000 a year,” Schiff said. “Who can live on $25,000 a year? Those are poverty wages.”
Similar to several U.S. cities, Bass does not have direct authority over the Los Angeles Unified School District. The strike is serving as the first real test for Bass, who campaigned on addressing homelessness and the city’s rising crime rates.
SEIU Local 99, comprised of cafeteria workers, custodians, and other school staff, staged a walkout, triggering a further strike from sympathetic teachers.
“If she were to get involved, it would be a game changer,” said Jackie Goldberg, president of the district’s school board. “With her personal relationship with SEIU and its leadership, I think she would be able to be very persuasive.”
School workers announced they were intending to strike last week on Wednesday following discussions with the district that had stalled after over a year. Max Arias, executive director for SEIU Local 99, said in a statement on Monday that planned negotiations with the district were called off after news reports leaked details about the meeting.
The union, which represents close to 30,000 employees, wanted to raise wages by 30% to bring the average salary up to $36,000. It has previously stated that it is uninterested in negotiating.
The district countered with a 20% wage increase, a 3% bonus, and improved healthcare benefits.
On the teachers’ side, United Teachers Los Angeles, representing 35,000 educators, is seeking a pay increase of 20%.
While not making a public declaration, Bass said she has made it clear to both sides that the salaries and working conditions of classified employees — who usually make $25,000 a year, on average — are unacceptable.
She also said she would act as a mediator between the district and unions if it would be helpful, which is more likely to occur once both sides are ready to figure out a deal.
“I think that collaborative, behind-the-scenes style can be very effective when it comes to bringing warring sides together,” Ana Guerrero, who served as former Mayor Eric Garcetti’s chief of staff, told Politico. “Because the mayor, if they’re effective when it comes to these situations, they don’t take a side, they don’t wag their finger.”