Political leaders are keeping a low profile on the school labor dispute.
Los Angeles is an outlier among the nation’s largest cities: Unlike the District of Columbia, Chicago and New York, its mayor does not control the schools.
Historically suspicious of power, Los Angeles long ago limited City Hall’s authority over public education and conferred power on an independent school board. The clout of the city, the nation’s second largest, is also limited by the sheer size of the Los Angeles Unified School District, which sprawls over some 700 square miles and serves students who live in more than two dozen other municipalities.
This is the landscape confronting Karen Bass, who became the mayor of Los Angeles in December, as she faces a three-day strike of 30,000 school support workers in what amounts to the first major test of her administration. The employees are seeking a 30 percent pay increase as living costs soar in Southern California; Union leaders say their members are paid not much more than the minimum wage.
So far, Ms. Bass has had a remarkably low public profile during the schools strike, especially when compared to the mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, who was front and center in 2019 and 2022 during work stoppages there, or the mayor of Washington, DC, Muriel Bowser, when school unions in the district negotiated a new contract last year. In Los Angeles, the mayor typically has little power beyond using the bully pulpit or offering to broker an agreement at City Hall.
In an interview on Tuesday, the first day of the strike, Ms. Bass said she was not avoiding the labor fight, but declined to go into detail. She is a former congresswoman and state legislative leader who has a long history of behind-the-scenes diplomacy, particularly in disputes between fellow Democrats.
“I can say that I have been deeply involved with all the parties,” she said. “But it would not be productive to have a press conference about it. My focus is on a successful resolution.
Ms. Bass has publicly refrained from taking sides, even though she received support in her mayoral election from the union that represents the workers, Service Employees International Union Local 99.
At the same time, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California has not intervened in the labor dispute. A spokesperson for Mr. Newsom said the governor has no immediate plans to become involved in the negotiations, although he and Ms. Bass had met to discuss the strike last weekend, and he is receiving updates from both sides.
The Los Angeles strike has frustrated the families of more than 420,000 students. But because it is limited in duration to three days, the situation seems to lack the sense of urgency that has accompanied open-ended walkouts, in which the prospect of prolonged school closures puts immediate pressure on all sides to reach a deal.
Darry Sragow, a longtime Democratic political consultant, said that politically, “there is no upside” for either the governor or Ms. Bass in becoming embroiled in an emotional but time-limited labor action “that will presumably work itself out.”