The Oakland Education Association (OEA) teacher’s union confirmed on Wednesday that they have voted to authorize a strike, with a walk out possible as soon as next week if an agreement isn’t reached with the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) soon.
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 being 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.
While both sides have structured the raises and additional stipends, including the latest OEA proposal favoring higher one-time stipends, the main division still comes down to teacher compensation. While other districts, such as the Los Angeles United School District, recently reached contract compromises following a short strike, Oakland teachers have been more disjointed. A one-day strike was held a year ago in the run up to negotiations, with an unauthorized wildcat strike of 400 teachers occurring last month.
With both sides not reaching an agreement despite 7 months of negotiations and multiple small strikes, the OEA announced this week that they have authorized an official strike that could potentially affect the end of the school year. 88% of OEA members cast a ballot in favor of a strike on Tuesday according to the union, with 87% of all members voting in total. As the union has more than 2,500 members, the amount was a clear majority for those in favor of a strike.
“We will set a strike date if Oakland doesn’t come to bargain fairly,” said OEA President Ismael Armendariz. “Those who voted yes, voted yes to force OUSD to bargain in good faith. If that doesn’t happen, a strike could happen before the end of the school year. Since our initial assessment earlier this month, our educators have become more supportive of our strike. Oakland educators deserve better.”
The OUSD countered a possible strike by filing an injunction with the Public Employees Relations Board, as a strike this late in the year would be unwarranted. However, on Wednesday, the injunction was denied, keeping the possibility of a strike in this school year a possibility. Meanwhile, the District has continued to work on negotiations with the Union.
BREAKING NEWS: OUSD’s request for an injunction against our potential Unfair Labor Practice strike has been DENIED. This means that a potential ULP strike can move forward. OUSD now has a choice to make. (1/2) pic.twitter.com/qYSCh5VJOi
— Oakland Education Association (@OaklandEA) April 26, 2023
A possible strike in Oakland
“As of 9:00 p.m. Tuesday, April 25, OUSD is currently at the bargaining table in negotiations with OEA,” said the District on Tuesday. “Beyond tonight, the District will remain ready to meet with the teachers’ union at any time, and looks forward to continuing our efforts to reach an agreement with OEA that honors our educators and best supports our students’ learning. We will continue to do everything possible to avoid a work stoppage.”
With the school year set to end on May 25th, and at least two bargaining sessions scheduled for Thursday and Friday, both sides noted on Wednesday that they hope to reach a deal as soon as possible, as a strike would at least partially close down district schools in the last month of the year, with thousands of children and their parents suddenly facing a major decision what will happen during the day for them.
“I’m really hopeful that we can get a settled contract or a tentative agreement in the next few weeks. If these offers aren’t good enough yet, I would encourage everyone that we keep negotiating to make it better,” stated Oakland School Board President Mike Hutchinson on Wednesday. “My whole time on the board so far, it’s been a priority of the entire district to improve teacher retention and to do that through improving compensation.”
Labor union experts noted on Wednesday to the Globe that the ball is largely in the unions court, as the School District has so far made the most concessions.
“The OEA is right now following the typical California teachers union negotiation playbook,” explained Tyrone Levy, a former counsel for two labor unions, to the Globe on Wednesday. “Drag it out for months, and then if you haven’t beaten down the District, threaten to strike and then make it look like you are doing it for the kids even though they’re the ones getting hurt by this action.
“Teacher’s unions get really defensive during anytime strikes are possible, because they know that at least half the public will see them as the bad guys, even in a union-friendly state like California, because they’re risking their kids futures. So they try and take the high road and add in provisions to the negotiations for students and classroom improvements. Even worse, they’re threatening a strike right during finals season. It will pressure the school district, but guess who it really hurts? That’s right, kids. If the teachers really cared about their students, they would wait until the summer to negotiate, where pressure to begin the school year on time would buy everyone a few months. But no, they’re deciding to go this dangerous route.”
Updates on the negotiations are to be announced in the next few days.
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