By CARLOS SAPIR and SHANE GREENLOW
The Oakland Education Association (OEA), which represents 3000 public school educators, has started an unfair labor practice (ULP) strike with pickets at all schools across the district. The executive leadership of OEA filed an ULP with the California Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) charging the district with bad faith bargainin as the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Bargaining Team has consistently shown little interest in responding to most of the proposals put on the table by the OEA bargaining team.
The key issue in contract bargaining has been compensation, as Oakland Teachers are the lowest paid in Alameda County. But low wages are hardly the only issue facing Oakland Public Schools. Support for Special Education is in tatters, with the district shuttering programs at many schools, and in general staffing levels are inconsistent, with schools in lower-income communities suffering from severe understaffing.
The strike authorization, with 88% of votes in favor and 87% of OEA members voting, comes on the heels of a wildcat strike at Oakland High, which spread to 16 work sites prior to the OEA authorization. In the words of one organizer of the wildcat, “We organized [the wildcat strike] so that OUSD would start actually bargaining rather than giving the OEA bargaining team the run around.”
For teachers in Oakland, whose government is dominated by Democrats from the local level all the way to the top, contract negotiations are a test of political commitments and class consciousness. Fighting for and winning an adequate contract means fighting against the Democrats in government who are pressuring the union to settle for less. This includes Democrats who have been supported by OEA leadership in election campaigns, such as Superintendent of Education Tony Thurmond and Alameda County Superintendent of Schools Alysse Castro.
Currently, contract negotiations are being held behind closed doors, impeding transparency and rank-and-file participation in the bargaining process. Advocates for transparency have pointed to livestreaming bargaining sessions as a way to better support the union membership, following the example of the successful UAW graduate student worker strike last year.
Workers’ Voice will be walking the picket lines alongside our teacher comrades as they fight for adequate compensation, improvements to working conditions, and better support for impoverished communities. We hope to see you there as well! Please see this link to contribute to the Oakland High wildcat strike fund, and this link to contribute to the general OEA strike fund.