CELEBRATING 75 YEARS OF UNION STRENGTH

The original charter certificate that established SEIU Local 99 as a local with SEIU (previously known as Building Service Employees’ International Union), January 19th, 1949.

In the mid-1940s, two Los Angeles Unified School District custodians Marvin Quinn and Carl Magnuson began meeting in Marvin’s backyard over hot dogs and lemonade to organize classified public school workers. Their efforts led to the founding of SEIU Local 99 on January 19, 1949, with LAUSD custodians and gardeners becoming the first members of our union.

From its beginnings, SEIU Local 99 has been a union driven by worker strength. Today, as we celebrate 75 years since Marvin and Carl first organized education workers to form their union, we recognize all who have come before us and look forward to a future firmly rooted in our history of organizing, activism, and building power.

A Brief History of SEIU Local 99

In the mid-1940s, two Los Angeles Unified School District custodians Marvin Quinn and Carl Magnuson 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. LAUSD custodians and gardeners become the first workers to form their union with Local 99.

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 to improve jobs and student services. We fight for better wages and working conditions, regular hours, the elimination of split shifts, job safety, seniority, health and retirement benefits, and protecting workers’ hours. More job classifications begin to join, adding to the custodians and gardeners who originally start our union. And from the start we understand the importance of being involved politically. One of our early Secretary Treasurers, Ed Bratrud, leads efforts to 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 candidates who support working people 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 at LAUSD. In 1968, we win fully-paid health care for a majority of workers at LAUSD. We purchase our union hall on 8th St. in Los Angeles 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 to help other workers form their union with Local 99. 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, recognizing that retired members are a vital part of our union, member 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 (Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization) 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 help Teacher Assistants at LAUSD organize with Local 99. The result: 8,000 Teacher Assistants gain a stronger voice at work and a contract with guarantees and protections.  In 1989, with strong participation from union members, we win an election that ensures every bargaining unit member that benefits from the wages and benefits negotiated in our contracts pays their fair share.

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, more than 4,000 Supervision and Playground Aides at LAUSD join our union.

In 2000, we win key contractual agreements with Lynwood and Torrance Unified School Districts. Early education workers at Charles Drew Head Start join Local 99 in 2001, and Options, Inc. workers join the following year. We continue our efforts to organize and negotiate contracts for more early education workers. LAUSD substitute teachers organize in 2006 and shortly thereafter negotiate and ratify their first contract. In 2007, 2,300 LAUSD food service workers win health care benefits. In 2008, Local 99 launches its Member Resource Center, which utilizes a computer database to track grievances and hearings.

Family child care providers join Local 99 and continue to fight for a voice in their industry. They win quarterly “Provider Input Meetings” with the California Department of Education to begin fixing the state’s broken child care system. At LAUSD, we win a $15 minimum wage, establish (and then protect) the Breakfast in the Classroom program and preserve flexible transportation funding. Head Start and Early Educators at MAOF establish a Labor Management Committee, giving them a voice in everyday operations decisions. Workers at The Accelerated School, an independent charter school, win their first labor union contract.

We continue to make politics and government work for working people. We fight Governor Schwarzenegger’s plan to completely eliminate state-subsidized child care. We fight for education funding as California recovers from the Great Recession and win a huge upset victory when California voters pass Governor Brown’s Proposition 30, reversing years of cuts to education. This leads to an immediate rescission of 10 furlough days at LAUSD. Furthermore, our efforts to elect President Obama pay-off as he signs the Education Jobs Bill, bringing $1.2 b to California schools. The Education Department estimates that this funding saves 160,000 jobs nationwide. At LAUSD alone, the money saves an estimated 1,700 jobs. We work to help pass the Affordable Care Act, giving 32 million Americans access to high quality affordable health care. We win California Senate Bill 1234, which begins to plan for a retirement security solution for workers without employer-based retirement benefits.

2020 begins with uncertainty as the COVID-19 pandemic shuts down schools and other worksites. SEIU Local 99 members rise to the challenge as they continue to provide essential services to keep our communities going through the crisis. Members negotiate for hero pay, COVID-19 stipends, personal protective equipment and other provisions that recognize their frontline work.

In 2021, in the midst of the pandemic, family child care providers negotiate their first contract with the state of California, securing their first rate increases in decades.

In 2023, members at LAUSD return to the negotiating table. Outright disrespect for their demands, escalate to an unfair labor practice strike at LAUSD from March 21-23, 2023. In an unprecedented show of solidarity, United Teachers Los Angeles also joins the picket lines, setting-off the largest public education strike in U.S. history. This leads to a historic contract with LAUSD which includes a 30% wage increase.

Soon after members at LAUSD secure their contract, family child care providers escalate their fight for their second contract with the state. Local and statewide actions, culminating in a massive march on the state capitol in Sacramento on June 15, 2023, lead to a groundbreaking contract for providers. The agreement includes provisions for the state to reform its outdated payment system and create a pathway to finally pay providers for the true cost of care.

Highlights from Our Past

Our long, storied history within the labor movement is documented in SEIU’s archives and hundreds of Local 99 newsletters and bulletin boards from 1960 to 1986. This archive now resides at the Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University. Every Thursday, we’ll publish a notable event from these newsletters below. The full Local 99 archive can be read here.

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