(BCN) — A union representing roughly 900 San Francisco public school employees has authorized a strike if current contract negotiations fail. Nearly 100 percent of the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 members voted Tuesday to strike if they can’t reach an agreement with the San Francisco Unified School District, according to union officials.

The union, which represents classified workers like food service employees, paraeducators and custodians, is asking the district to increase salaries to keep pace with what the city of San Francisco pays for similar jobs, which union officials say is 16 percent to 25 percent higher.

“The cost of living in San Francisco is so high, it has displaced our members, many of whom are also SFUSD parents, out of the city. Our members are the lowest-paid employees of the district,” said SEIU 1021 SFUSD chapter president Rafael Picazo.

“Most of our members come from Black, brown, and Asian communities, and we all stand in solidarity in our fight for a fair contract and a living wage,” Picazo said.

SEIU Local 1021 members’ contract expired in 2020 and they’ve been in negotiations with the district since last October, according to union spokesperson Chelsea Fink.

Currently, average full-time salaries for custodians are a little over $60,000 a year, while secretaries average about $65,000 and lunchroom helpers are at about $56,000. Those wages are so low that the district has a hard time fully staffing many positions, leading to large workloads and burnout among remaining employees, many of whom work two or three jobs just to make ends meet, Fink said.

Tuesday’s vote authorizes the union bargaining team to call a strike when they feel it is necessary and a date for such an action hasn’t yet been set.

“SFUSD remains committed to negotiating in good faith with our labor partners,” district spokesperson Laura Dudnick said in an email Wednesday. “SFUSD has 16 bargaining units and is committed to a budget process that prioritizes financial decisions that most directly benefit student experiences.”

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