March 30, 2023

Oakland, California

When education workers are under attack, what do they do? They rise up and go on strike! And that’s exactly what these workers in both Los Angeles and Oakland did.

Oakland teachers, students and supporters rally in front of the OUSD building, March 24. PHOTO: Craig Gordon

On March 21, 30,000 members of Service Employees International Union Local 99 — the bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers, paraprofessionals and other education workers in the Los Angeles Unified School District — went on a three-day Unfair Labor Practices (ULP) strike for a living wage. They were joined by 35,000 teachers and other educators in the United Teachers of Los Angeles, who held a sympathy strike with their sibling union. UTLA announced that they would not cross the SEIU picket line.

SEIU Local 99 members earn incredibly low wages, are forced to work part-time and are not paid for holidays. The education workers went on strike demanding a 30% raise over four years, paid holidays, health care benefits and an immediate $2-an-hour raise for the lowest-paid workers.

Then on March 24, just a day after SEIU workers returned to work in L.A., Oakland teachers and other educators went on a one-day unsanctioned wildcat strike. Led by rank-and-file members of the Oakland Education Association, teachers from the high schools and middle schools set up morning picket lines in front of their schools, organized marches and eventually rallied at the empty school district building in downtown Oakland.

These teachers are in the midst of bargaining with the Oakland Unified School District. According to OEA bargaining team members, the district has been absent at most organized bargaining sessions. OEA has been working on an extended contract for the past year, and Oakland teachers are the lowest-paid educators in Alameda County.

Bargaining demands include increased funding for community public schools, benefits for substitute teachers and the hiring of more librarians and therapists. Teachers are demanding a pay raise of 22.9%, which would bring their salary to the middle range of teacher pay in the Bay Area. The regressive district counteroffer of 8% over two years, with a longer workday and work year, infuriated teachers and sparked the one-day Oakland wildcat action. OEA also filed an ULP claim on March 23.

Low wages lead to Oakland strike vote

Education workers both in L.A. and the Bay Area are suffering from soaring housing costs. In L.A., SEIU members earn an average of $25,000 a year working for LAUSD, and the median price of a one-bedroom apartment is nearly $20,000 a year. (LA Times, March 24) Many of these workers are forced to take an additional part-time job to make ends meet.