In the mid-1940s, two Los Angeles Unified School District custodians Marvin Quinn and Carl Magnusen begin meeting in Marvin’s backyard over hot dogs and lemonade to organize classified public school workers. Despite Los Angeles’ reputation as being strongly anti-labor, Local 99 is founded on January 19, 1949.
Now officially a part of the Building Service Employees International Union, this is the formative period in Local 99’s history, and we begin meeting with the LAUSD School Board. We are fighting for better wages and working conditions, regular hours, the elimination of split shifts, job safety, seniority, health and retirement benefits, and protecting workers’ hours. We slowly gain more classifications, adding to the custodians and gardeners who originally start our union. One of our early Secretary Treasurers, Ed Bratrud, will get legislation passed to allow a property tax override for school districts so that they can pay for employee benefits.
We’re in a decade of political activism—not just in the country, but right here in Local 99. We work to endorse and campaign for labor-friendly candidates and elect them to local and state offices. We also introduce and fight for legislation to increase member benefits. In 1966, we win biweekly paychecks instead of once-per-month paychecks. In 1968, we win fully-paid health care. We purchase our current union hall in 1969, and we join with teachers in a strike to protest poor wages and working conditions and a series of job cuts. By standing together with members of a sister union and fighting for their jobs as well as our own, nearly all jobs are saved.
Members enjoy stronger rights on the job and become more involved in our union, including forming special clubs and planning more recreational activities together, such as annual Christmas parties and Las Vegas trips. In 1975, we win passage of The Rodda Bill, giving all school employees the right to collective bargaining. LAUSD bargaining units B and C get their first contract. This victory launches Local 99’s biggest organizing drive of its 30-year history. In 1974, Dan Johnson starts the Senior Division of Local 99.
The 1980s are tough times for workers all over the country. Anti-labor policies in government are in full force. President Reagan sets the tone when he decertifies PATCO and fires 12,000 air traffic controllers overnight. These policies continue to weaken unions throughout the decade. But by the end of the decade, Local 99 workers have had enough! Our local conducts an ambitious, year-long campaign to organize Teacher Assistants. The result: another 8,000 members and strength for a new group of workers. In 1989, with regained strength, we easily win an election requiring every bargaining unit member to pay their fair share to support our work.
This is a great decade for Local 99, with many victories in our contracts, career development programs, and a new era of cooperation with and respect from the various school districts employing us. In 1991, Teachers Assistants get their first contract, which includes a bilingual differential. Following the 1994 Northridge earthquake, Local 99 members are among the first employees back on campuses working tirelessly to ready the schools for students. United States Congressman Howard Berman honors Local 99 members for our outstanding efforts during the earthquake recovery. In 1998, organizing brings 4,300 Supervision and Playground Aides into the local.
In 2000, we win key contractual agreements in Lynwood and Torrance. Early education workers at Options Inc. join Local 99 in 2002. We continue our efforts to organize and negotiate contracts for more early education workers. LAUSD substitute teachers organize in 2006 and are currently negotiating their first contract. In 2007, 2,300 LAUSD cafeteria workers win health care benefits. In 2008, Local 99 launches its Member Resource Center, which utilizes a computer database to track grievances, hearings, and all other member business.
We start this decade still in the Great Recession. Despite massive national, state and local budget cuts to education—from early ed to higher ed—we save hundreds of jobs at LAUSD and elsewhere by negotiating furlough days, which also helps preserve student services. We finally turn a corner in 2012 when, despite all predictions, we help pass Proposition 30: Governor Brown’s plan to temporarily tax the wealthy and raise sales taxes to fund education. This ends years of cuts, and SEIU Local 99 members can take a lot of credit for that. We talked to more than 10,000 voters! Also in 2012, child care providers form their union with SEIU Local 99 and continue their struggle to win collective bargaining from the state. At LAUSD, we introduce the Breakfast in the Classroom program, ensuring that all LAUSD children start the day right. A year later in 2013, we successfully saved this important program by holding rallies all across the district and packing the School Board meeting room, leading to a 7-0 vote in favor of Breakfast in the Classroom. In 2014, SEIU Local 99 makes national headlines when we win a $15 minimum wage at LAUSD. The following year, the L.A. City Council enacted a $15 minimum wage.