Don’t be Fooled by Teachers Unions’ Antics

Los Angeles Unified School District employees are again in an uproar and on strike.

But it’s not poor academic performance, politicized union leadership, dismal district finances or the impact of Covid shutdowns on student wellbeing that’s behind the protests.

No, employees were striking earlier this week for the same thing education unions always strike for – more money for adults.

The union doing the striking, SEIU 99, represents support staff – custodians and cafeteria workers – the lowest-paid LAUSD employees. These employees earn less than the district’s other two labor groups, teachers and administrators.

As usual, the demand is that everyone gets a raise, no matter what job they do, how their pay compares to local market conditions or how much they work. SEIU Local 99 is demanding the L.A. School District provide their members with a 30 percent raise and $2 per hour “equity” wage increase.

The United Teachers of Los Angeles, which represents about 35,000 teachers joined the strike in solidarity.

School district employees and union leadership claim the support staff is underpaid because … they say they’re underpaid.

To determine whether this assertion is true, Transparent California evaluated the pay of the support staff at L.A. County School District.

Virtually every mainstream media outlet is unquestioningly quoting the union, which claims the average annual salary for Los Angeles Unified School District support employees is “about $25,000 per year.”

According to the Transparent California database of compensation records for public employees, there were 60,922 employees in the Los Angeles Unified School District with a classification that indicates they were likely support staff through 2021, the most recent data available. The average total pay for these individuals was $33,759 a year, 35 percent more than the $25,000 figure being bandied about by the union.

Of those nearly 61,000 support staff workers, some 5,464 had zero base pay, so one can assume they’re not working employees but in the district’s records for other reasons.

That leaves 55,459 classified employees, with the average pay of that group being $37,079, or more than 48 percent more than the $25,000 figure being cited.

Assuming that LAUSD was not violating minimum wage law, anyone who made base pay less than $33,363 for the year was either a part-time employee or did not work a full year. 

If we eliminate part-time employees, we have 24,861 full time/full year employees. The average total pay of this group was $72,847.

Any comparison to private employee compensation has to include employee benefits. Classified school employees typically receive an additional 10.5 percent of their salary in retirement benefits.

A school employee making $72,847 is at the same standard of living as a private employee making $80,496. If a private employee wanted to enjoy the same retirement security as the school worker, they would have to take $7,649 out of their paycheck and put it into their IRA or 401k plan every year. 

Is $80,000 an exorbitant salary in Los Angeles? No. But it is well above the poverty wages being touted by the union.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reports that the median family household income in Los Angeles in 2021 was $91,100, less than 10 percent more than the average pay of a fulltime L.A. School District support staff employee.

Support staff in the district handling part-time work or only working part of the year have options such as picking up a second job or finding work elsewhere. This isn’t always easy or convenient, but it’s not the responsibility of taxpayers to pay all workers – no matter how few hours they work – a salary that affords them the lifestyle they desire.

Just as importantly, the unions representing employees of the Los Angeles Unified School District shouldn’t be trying to play on the heartstrings of taxpayers by misleading them about the reasons for the wide range in salaries.

Todd Maddison is the research sirector for the public pay watchdog website Transparent California and a parent- activist working to improve K12 education in our state.

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