Frustrated by the Oakland Unified School District’s refusal to bargain a new contract, more than 3,000 teachers and other educators, all members of the Oakland Education Association, went on strike on May 4.
According to striking teachers, all classes ground to a halt with schools almost totally empty of students and educators. The response from parents and other community members has been strongly in support of the striking teachers.
Teachers in Oakland are the lowest-paid teachers in Alameda County. OEA is demanding a 22.9% salary raise across the board for its educators, which would bring Oakland teachers just up to the halfway point in the range of teacher salaries in the county. Teachers are leaving Oakland in alarming numbers, because of the high cost of living in the Bay Area and the failure of the school district to pay a living wage.
The OEA bargaining committee, composed of 50 educators and including teachers, nurses, psychologists, substitute teachers, librarians and others, has put forward more than 20 proposals for serious changes in OUSD. Teachers are demanding more say in the direction and coordination of education in the district. They are demanding funding for community schools, school safety, reparations for Black students, lower class sizes, improved working conditions, among many other demands.
The school district forced this strike by refusing to come to the bargaining table for months, while demanding a longer school year and a longer workday. OUSD most recently only offered to bargain compensation issues. Rather than seriously raise teacher salaries, the district has offered one-time lump sum payments, which would be heavily taxed.
The OEA filed an Unfair Labor Practices charge on March 23. Then on April 24 88% of the membership authorized the union leadership to call an ULP strike. At a May 2 press conference attended by OEA leadership and the large bargaining committee, OEA President Ismael Armendariz gave the school district 48 hours to bargain fairly and avert a strike. The union went on strike two days later.
Strike shows union’s strength
The first two days of the strike have shown the strength of the Oakland teachers union. On May 4, after picketing the more than 80 schools for several hours, OEA educators, students, parents, other unions and community members rallied in the amphitheater of Oakland City Hall at Oscar Grant Plaza.
On May 5, the OEA held a large end-of-day rally at United for Success Academy and Life Academy, two Oakland public schools, that shut down 35th Avenue, a busy East Oakland street, as the large crowd spilled out to listen to the speakers. Following the rally, hundreds of OEA members and their supporters marched to Josie de la Cruz Park on Fruitvale Avenue, where a final rally was held.
The OEA bargaining committee continued to work through the May 6-7 weekend to win a just and reasonable contract for its members. It is expected that the strike will continue as the school week begins.
Judy Greenspan is a teacher at United for Success Academy and an OEA representative for substitute teachers.