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.
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.
At a rally at Oscar Grant Plaza in downtown Oakland, several hundred secondary school teachers, students and supporters came together for a rally as part of their wildcat action. Several speakers pointed out that low educator salaries combined with the high cost of living in the Bay Area are responsible for the exodus of young teachers from the Oakland public schools.
Other speakers pointed out that OUSD spends far more on administrators than any other district in the state. The gap between teacher and administrator pay has increased exponentially.
What effect do strike actions have? Well, the day after the 3-day strike by L.A. education workers, a tentative agreement guaranteeing raises of 30% was reached between SEIU Local 99 and the district. Of course, the members of the union still have to approve it, and UTLA is currently in contract negotiations with LAUSD.
In Oakland, there is no indication that OUSD will begin to bargain fairly with OEA. With its ULP filed, the teachers’ union will now move forward with strike readiness plans, which include polling the membership for a strike vote.
This spring began with tens of thousands of education workers in the streets in L.A., including the inspirational sympathy strike by teachers. The school year may well end with additional strikes and job actions by education workers, who are fighting for their very survival and for the future of public education in California.