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The Oakland Teachers Strike


The teachers’ strike movement has moved to Oakland, which is receiving surprisingly little media attention compared to all the other recent strikes. Sarah Jones has a good run-down on what it is about and what is going on:

Meager pay. Crowded classrooms. A ratio of one counselor for every 600 students. The Oakland Education Association says these are just a few of the reasons that its 3,000 members, who have worked without a contract since 2017, are on strike for a third day. Contract negotiations between the union and the Oakland Unified School District continued on Friday afternoon, and though the city’s schools remain open, a spokesman for the district told New York Magazine on Friday afternoon that the “majority” of their students did not appear to be in class. It’s unclear, still, if the union and the district will make enough progress to prevent a continuation of the strike on Tuesday.

OUSD officials have said they can’t afford to meet the union’s demands, which include a 12 percent retroactive pay raise effective from 2017 to 2020 and the hiring of more support staff, like school counselors and nurses. OUSD has offered the union an 8.5 percent raise instead. In an op-ed, OUSD superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said the district must “live within” its “current financial reality,” and urged the state to increase funding for public education. The union, meanwhile, blames charter schools for siphoning needed funds away from traditional public schools. According to the OUSD, 13,219 of the district’s 50,119 students attended charter schools during the 2017 to 2018 school year.

Some of OEA’s demands are familiar. In January, Los Angeles teachers also struck, largely over charter schools, which had proliferated in the city while traditional public schools struggled to serve their student population. But the economic context of the Bay Area distinguishes Oakland’s strike from the Los Angeles strike and from other, previous teacher walkouts. Oakland’s teachers work in the nation’s costliest metro region, and with a starting salary of only $46,500, OUSD pay is low even when compared to the surrounding cities and suburbs that make up the Bay Area. The union says that that one in five Oakland teachers leave the district every year because they can no longer afford to work in the district.

Oakland, like the rest of the Bay Area, is caught in the throes of an inequality crisis. The region reportedly has the third-highest number of billionaires per capita in the world, but that prosperity hasn’t trickled down to educators or to many of their students. The wealthiest families in the San Francisco area make 11 times more than the poorest, the Mercury News reported; in nearby San Jose, wealthy families earn ten and a half times more than those in the lowest income bracket. That wealth gap has been exacerbated by rising rents. Exact rent figures vary depending on the source, but in 2018, median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Oakland was around $2,100 a month. Housing is even less affordable in nearby cities. In San Francisco, renters who want to put their beds behind a door paid a median rent between $3,300 to $3,400 a month in 2017. As rents go up and price workers out of local housing, workers are forced to live further and further from their jobs. Apartment List, a real-estate site, compiled available U.S. Census data and found that the number of Bay Area residents who commute more than 90 minutes a day more than doubled between 2005 and 2016.

Again, the problems teachers face is the problems we all face after decades of assault on our labor rights, our affordable cities, and our public goods. This is why these strikes have proven so popular. They may inconvenience parents, but they are for reasons that the parents themselves understand because they face the same issues.

Now it it’s sixth day, the strike may be leading to some progress:

Negotiators for the Oakland Unified School District said they upped their pay raise offer to teachers after striking educators and their supporters Wednesday shut down a planned school board meeting.

The latest proposal, which district officials said they presented to teachers Monday, would give them an 8 percent raise and a 2 percent bonus, up from the prior 7 percent bump, plus 1.5 bonus offered a week ago.

Union leaders have been pushing for 12 percent. On Wednesday evening, they criticized the district for releasing the latest offer publicly rather than bargaining in private.

The public announcement is in fact bullshit, a bad faith bargaining effort meant to pressure teachers instead of really hashing out the issues. But it’s also a sign that the city is starting to cave.

We will see. We also need to pay more attention to this critical strike, as this movement continues to churn ahead.

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