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Oakland teachers strike, February 2019. (Photo: Sheila Fitzgerald, Shutterstock)

Oakland Schools, Teachers Union Come To A Tentative Agreement

Seven day strike ends, teachers to get part of desired raise

By Evan Symon, May 15, 2023 1:00 pm

The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) and the Oakland Education Association (OEA) announced on Monday a tentative agreement had been reached on a new contract on Monday, ending a week-long strike in the city.

Negotiations between the union and the school district have been ongoing over the last seven months. Both sides have been unable to reach an agreement, with both teacher pay and classroom improvements on the table. The OEA has demanded a 23% raise, more student supports, full funding of the Reparations for Black Students resolution, climate-controlled classrooms for all students, more counselors and social workers, and a reduction in class sizes. The OUSD, in comparison, has proposed a 22% raise and an extra $3,000 in back pay, but only for tenured teachers and not recent hires or part-time staff.

However, by late April, talks began to break down, with the OEA authorizing a strike following a union vote on April 27th. The strike then formally started on May 4th. All 80 schools remained open during this time, but there were few services beyond meals and non-OEA staff coming in, effectively stopping school for a week and keeping the large majority of students home. Faced with a second full week of no classes with only 8 days left in the school year, both sides met during the weekend and quickly formed a tentative agreement. Mediating the talks were State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond and members of the California Department of Education.

According to the agreement, all teachers will receive a 10% raise dating back to November of 2022, with most receiving a 15.5% raise. All teachers are also to get a one-time $5,000 stipend, with teachers who can speak multiple languages getting an additional stipend. Elementary schools are to receive school counselors as well, with others schools to receive additional staff such as librarians, guidance counselors, and nurses. Other smaller details, such as a new process for possible school closures and a new focus on historically black schools, were also added. The agreement is to last for 2.5 years through June 2025, with the new raises set to begin in July.

OEA, OUSD come to a tentative agreement

While the OEA did receive an overall raise and some concessions such as additional staff, the desired raise was far below the 23% originally wanted by the union. On Monday, union leaders attempted to spin the agreement as a win, emphasizing how the “common Good’s goals” and “Black-Thriving schools” parts of the demands were met, while largely ignoring the much less than desired raise.

“The union won our ‘Common Goods’ goals, especially with more resources for Black-thriving schools,” said OEA Vice President Kampala Taiz-Rancifer on Monday. “Beyond the economic gains, this hard-fought tentative agreement, if ratified by our members, will help ensure that educators, parents, students and other stakeholders have a voice in the decision-making process.”

OEA President Ismael Armendariz added in a statement that “This tentative agreement is about a teacher being able to put bread on their table and it is also about feeding young minds. It’s about more than a paycheck, it’s about the common good.”

A tweet from the OEA on Monday further stated that “OEA’s Bargaining Team of over 50 Oakland educators has reached a TA with OUSD. Our collective power forced OUSD to commit to living wages for educators, more resources in our schools, enforceable working conditions & common good issues for our students & their families.”

Thurmond, who helped mediate the strike, noted meanwhile that the goal was to get students back into class as soon as possible, wanting to have a tentative agreement in place by the end of the weekend.

“I stepped in to help mediate this strike in hopes of getting our students back to class as quickly as possible,” added Thurmond. “While the issues were very complex, I observed that both parties, OEA and OUSD, participated in very productive discussions, often into the late hours of the night.”

While the OUSD has yet to give a statement, many labor union experts noted that the majority of people in Oakland opposed the strike, given that a strike this late in the year could potentially harm students by delaying transcripts and impact passing finals.

“Whenever school strikes happen, they never talk about what happens to the students now, Tyrone Levy, a former counsel for two labor unions, told the Globe Monday. “It’s always the future, not what happens in the immediate. And the truth is that the unions always put their future ahead of whoever is on the line now. They could have easily waited for the summer to work things out, but it’s all about pressure. And the teachers chose themselves over the students.”

“When police or hospital workers strike, they use ‘blue flu’ staggered tier striking or slow down methods, because if they all strike at once, terrible things can happen. Yet we treat schools differently. They aren’t looking at the collateral damage here. Hurting some students now to help others possibly in the future? Something is wrong there.”

OUSD officials are expected to comment soon, with a vote on the agreement by the union expected to occur in the near future.

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Evan Symon
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