Oakland teachers fight for higher pay, community schools

Teacher protest at the recent school board meeting, April 26, 2023.

Oakland, California

The Oakland Education Association represents around 3,000 teachers in the Oakland Unified School District. Its 50-member bargaining committee has been trying to get OUSD to respond to its demands for higher salaries, smaller class size, equity and parity for substitute teachers, and hiring more nurses, psychologists, resource specialists and librarians. There are over 35,000 students in more than 80 schools in the district.

The district’s refusal to even come to the bargaining table led OEA to file an Unfair Labor Practice charge March 23. Middle and high school teachers went on a one-day wildcat strike March 24 to protest OUSD’s callous disregard for teacher demands. 

On April 24, the OEA membership, by an 88% majority, gave its leadership authorization to call an Unfair Labor Practices strike.

The week of the vote was full of “ready to strike” activities which included an OEA press conference announcing the opening of the strike vote, poster-making sessions, art builds, and a large protest at the school board meeting.

Hundreds of teachers picketed outside and then rallied inside Met West High School, where the Oakland School Board was scheduled to meet on April 26. Chanting “Get up, Get down, Oakland is a union town!” teachers, parents, and students surrounded the building to demand that the school district start bargaining seriously on a new teacher contract.

Press conference hits cuts to special education

Teachers, students, parents and community members held a press conference April 28 at United for Success Academy (UFSA), an Oakland public middle school, to expose the deteriorating conditions for students and teachers inside the school and the abrupt closure of its only special education class. Students testified about an alarming rodent infestation and a lack of safety in the student bathrooms. Despite ongoing complaints about health and safety concerns, the district has done little to remedy the situation. 

At the press conference, students of the Special Day Class and their parents spoke out about how upset they were when they received the district form letter saying their class was ending at the end of this school year in May. To add insult to injury, the special education teacher only found out about the imminent closure after parents phoned her in tears. The district didn’t even inform the teacher appropriately.

Parents are now faced with sending their children across the district to schools where they don’t know anyone. One parent noted that her daughter would have to take two buses to get to school next fall. Right now, her daughter walks to school.

Last minute negotiations have continued all weekend without substantial progress. It is unclear at this time whether a strike will be avoided. Meanwhile, teachers spent all of Saturday, April 29, making strike posters and banners with bilingual slogans like, “Strike for safe and racially just community schools!/Huelga para escuelas comunitarias seguras y racialmente justas!”

While teachers know it is very difficult to go on strike at the end of the school year, they are determined to win a just contract for all educators in the Oakland Education Association.   

Judy Greenspan is a teacher at UFSA and a proud member of the Oakland Education Association.

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