People march on the third and final day of protests over pay in Los Angeles public schools.
CNN  — 

The union representing thousands of Los Angeles school workers said members will return to work Friday after concluding a massive three-day strike that demanded increased wages and better working conditions.

The Service Employees International Union Local 99, which represents about 30,000 Los Angeles school custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers and other student services staff, said on social media the strike, which was supported by teachers and their union, was over, but “the fight for our schools continues.”

The school district confirmed schools would be open.

“All @LASchools will reopen this Friday, March 24. We are grateful for the assistance and support of our partners, and we look forward to seeing our students and employees back at school,” officials with the Los Angeles Unified School District tweeted.

Thresa Thomas, a food service worker, said the strike was a step forward, according to the workers’ union news release.

“By standing together on the picket lines, before the sun was up and through the wind and rain, we showed the district we are not afraid; we are stronger than ever,” Thomas said. “We won the respect we’ve been demanding and it feels like the whole world is finally listening.”

School workers began picketing Tuesday with the support of the district’s teachers after nearly a year of unsuccessful negotiations with the school district.

The strike ended with a large rally at the Los Angeles State Historic Park on Thursday.

Frustrated members of the workers’ union have said they feel undervalued by low wages, minimal staffing and inadequate hours even as they provide essential services to the school district’s 500,000 students. The union said workers’ average salary is $25,000, requiring many to work additional jobs.

“We live in this weird paradox as workers that help feed children and yet we struggle to feed our own children,” union member Adrian Alverez told CNN affiliate KCAL. “We help students go to college, yet we don’t have enough money to send our kids to college.”

The union has demanded “equitable wage increases, more full-time work, respectful treatment, and increased staffing levels for improved student services.”

The United Teachers Los Angeles union, which is undergoing separate contact negotiations with the district, is honoring the workers’ strike and urged its 35,000 members to join picket lines and rallies.

Thousands of workers union members and their supporters rally outside the LAUSD headquarters in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
People protest for the third day as members of the Service Employees International Union Local 99 strike, in Los Angeles, California on March 23, 2023 - More than 500,000 children were shut out of lessons March 21 as school workers in Los Angeles began a three-day walkout over pay. Bus drivers, cafeteria workers and special education assistants employed by Los Angeles Unified School District -- the second biggest in the United States -- are striking over what they say are "poverty wages." (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

The district said Wednesday it had been “in conversation” with the school workers union and wants to reach an agreement that honors the hard work of our employees, corrects historic inequities, maintains the financial stability of the District.

District Superintendent Alberto Carvalho acknowledged Tuesday the strike was a result of a years-long “crescendo of frustration” on behalf of workers but told CNN, “We should not be depriving our students of an opportunity to learn.”

The strike left many parents of students scrambling for child care options.

“So far, my wife has planned to take a couple days off work and maybe stay home with the kids and I’m going to have to do more overtime,” parent Armando Basulto told KABC.

Rachel Wagner, whose 9-year-old son attends school in Encino, told CNN she supports the workers’ actions and believes better pay would alleviate staffing shortages and decrease turnover.

“At the end of the day, you know, their working conditions are our child’s learning conditions,” Wagner said.

Where the negotiations stand

After nearly a year of gridlocked negotiations, the district and union have yet to reach a bargain, though Carvalho told CNN the district is prepared to work toward a potentially “precedent-setting contract.”

The two parties had planned to participate in a confidential mediation process Monday, but the union refused to come to the table after a district spokesperson shared details of the planned negotiations.

Members of the Los Angeles schools’ support workers union are demanding, in part:

• A 30% pay raise, plus an additional $2 an hour over next four years

• Increased employment hours for part-time workers

The latest offers announced by the Los Angeles school district on Monday included:

• A 23% recurring pay increase, plus a 3% cash-in-hand bonus

• A $20-an-hour minimum wage

• Full health care benefits for those working at least four hours a day.

“Years of substandard compensation levels that – quite frankly, in a community like Los Angeles where the cost of living (and) the cost of housing are so high – have put our workforce, particularly the lowest wage earners, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodial staff, in a position where they cannot live in the communities where they work,” Carvalho told CNN.

District provides support for families

As classes remained on hold due to the strike, the district announced several measures to assist families, some of whom rely on the daily meals provided to their children at school.

Daytime supervision was available at more than 150 schools. Additionally, 30 recreation centers were hosting a Special Edition After School Club Program for elementary school students and 18 county recreation and park sites were hosting drop-in “Everybody Plays” programs with open gyms and recreation equipment.

The Los Angeles County Zoo also provided free admission to district students and a “community Safari Day” program for elementary school students.

On Monday, some families picked up six grab-and-go meals per student at two dozen distribution sites, though the city has since ended the program.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated when the strike began. It started Tuesday.

CNN’s Cheri Mossburg, Nicole Norman, Kyung Lah, Stephanie Becker, Holly Yan and Nick Watt contributed to this report.