Maria Mateo seems a naturally happy and positive person, but also a little shy and didn’t really want our camera or an inquisitive reporter to follow her around the cafeteria at Downtown L.A’.s Union Avenue Elementary. However, after a little bit of explanation, this mother of three agreed and we got to spend an hour or so with her on the job. She was serving lunch (chicken sandwich, salad, and juice) to a lot of hungry kids as part of the District’s summer “Beyond the Bell Program”, but we were there to talk about the ‘‘landmark’’, in her union leaders’ words, new contract.
Service Employees International Union local number 99 signed a deal with the Los Angeles Unified School District that boosted minimum wage to $15.00 per hour over the next three years. Maria was certainly happy to hear that, but I wondered how big a deal that was since she already made $13.00 per hour, which is certainly significantly more than the (as of July 1) $9.00 minimum wage statewide. When she explained that she has three young kids, a husband who works part time, rent of $900 a month, and she only gets 20 hours a week on the schedule, I could see what she meant when she said that every dollar was important. “It’s hard, when you have kids”. Understatement. This will affect about 20,000 of the local's 33,000 members, and it still has to be ratified by a majority, which seems likely.
There was a big news conference at District Headquarters to announce this deal, and both sides deserve credit for hammering it out fairly quickly. Superintendent Deasy, with some board members with him, said that even though negotiations at time were tough they were all done “with a profound desire and deep caring” and they wanted to “do the right thing for LAUSD and the right thing for employees.” I wonder how the teachers and their union feel about that? They’re miles apart on their negotiations.