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Oakland Teachers’ Union Puts District’s Most Vulnerable Students Last 

Oakland Teachers’ Union Puts District’s Most Vulnerable Students Last 

The Oakland Education Association — the teachers union in Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) — is at it again. Last week, the union announced that 88 percent of its members voted in favor of authorizing a strike. The strike is scheduled to begin May 4th, unless the district and union come to a last-minute agreement.

This would be the third teacher strike in just over a year in a district where students already suffering from deep learning deficits can’t afford to lose more classroom time.

The looming strike comes as the end of the school year approaches and students are preparing for AP and final exams. Oakland teacher and union member Ebony Perry admitted in a CBS News video that the strike wouldn’t be good for the students because of upcoming end-of-year testing, but that the union was prepared to strike anyway to “send a big message.”

The school district’s motion for an injunction to prevent a strike was denied by the Public Employees Relations Board. District officials say the teachers union filed a labor complaint accusing the district of negotiating in bad faith so that OEA can skip over the steps legally mandated before striking:.

“There is a process for bargaining and if there’s no agreement, first an impasse is declared, then fact finding, then mediation,” Oakland school board president Mike Hutchinson told the San Francisco Chronicle. “We have been bargaining and we’re not even at impasse.”

But unions know that strikes and threats of strikes put added pressure on districts, and that’s why the teachers unions plan strikes when they will be the most disruptive to students and families.

Salary negotiations can effectively take place without shutting down schools and hurting students, but the union strategy depends on using students as pawns in collective bargaining negotiations.

“We’ve seen this pattern,” Lakisha Young, founder and CEO of the nonprofit parent group The Oakland Reach told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Every time it’s time to negotiate, there’s always a strike. We’ve become indoctrinated into this behavior like it’s OK.” 

“You can support teachers without supporting kids’ learning being disrupted,” Young said. “Don’t use our kids as a bargaining chip.”

OEA Demands More Pay Despite Low Student Performance Scores and Declining Enrollment

According to an analysis of over 6,500 payroll records from the district, 2021 average salary for full-time certificated staff in OUSD is $79,257, which rises to $105,569 when benefits are included. 

The district has offered raises between 13 and 22 percent for teachers, which would give the least-experienced “tenured” teachers a starting salary of $63,000. (In California, teachers receive tenure after just two years.) Experienced teachers at “the top end” would receive salaries of nearly $118,000, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Additionally, the district is offering a $5,000 one-time bonus, and upon condition of increased instructional time for elementary students, a retroactive 10% raise for all union members. 

So what’s the union’s beef? According to the Chronicle, OEA also wants hefty raises for new teachers just starting out who have worked only a year or two, and for teachers working under an emergency credential (e.g., teachers with less education and training) instead of a standard teaching credential. Other demands include smaller class sizes; more nurses, counselors, and librarians; improved environmental health in classrooms; and “culturally relevant curriculum,” according to EdSource. 

However, none of the discussions tie teacher raises to student performance — in a district where only about one-third of all students meet California’s English Language Arts (ELA) standards and just one-quarter of all students meet state math standards. 

In fact, in OUSD, where nearly half of district students are Hispanic and 20 percent of students are African American, student achievement scores for these students are even worse:

  • Less than two in ten (19.8 percent) of OUSD’s African American students meet California’s ELA standards and only about one in ten (10.7 percent) meet grade-level math standards. 
  • Less than a quarter (24.8 percent) of OUSD’s Hispanic students meet state ELA standards and only 14.5 percent meet grade-level math standards.

The district’s failures are driving families out of the district. According to California Department of Education enrollment data, the district has lost 3,847 students since the 2019-20 school year, a decline of a significant 7.8 percent. Still, OEA demands more money.

Oakland Parents Push Back

Parents with children in Oakland Unified have had enough. Oakland Reach and California Parent Power, another active Oakland parent group, launched a petition earlier this month opposing the strike which has already garnered more than 650 signatures. 

“As Oakland district families, we are enraged by this action,” the petition states. “Our kids’ education is too important to be used as a pawn by adults who are using bad-faith tactics in (what are supposed to be) good-faith negotiations.”

Both groups also emphasize that strikes place a massive burden on working families. 

“Lower-income families can’t afford to miss work to stay home with their kids during a long- or short-term strike, which is why the union doesn’t want to seek support from the thousands of parents in the flatlands…,” Young told the Chronicle.

Young explained that “it appeared that the union was organizing in the hills community…appealing to more privileged families to back them in the bargaining process and if they strike.” 

One thing is for sure: Parents like Young have had enough of the Oakland teachers union’s repeated strikes that put the most vulnerable students and their families last. 

Transparent California Data on OUSD Teacher Salaries

  • 2021 Teacher salary (the district’s 1,293 regular teachers are called “Teacher Structured Eng Immersion” on payroll): Their average total pay is $71,644; and average Total Pay with Benefits is $95,688.
  • 2021 “Teacher Rsp,” or Resource Specialist Program (124 teachers for special needs students): average Total Pay is $70,914; average Total Pay & Benefits is $94,996.
  • 2021 “Teacher Bilingual” (115 teachers): average Total Pay is $79,067.60; average Total Pay & Benefits is $105,204.

History of OEA’s Frequent Strikes 

April 25, 2023 — OEA members’ strike vote comes just one month after a non-union-authorized “Wildcat Strike” on March 24th. 

March 24th, 2023 — Teachers at 14 schools in Oakland Unified participated in a “Wildcat Strike” over ongoing contract negotiations.  

April 29, 2022 — Oakland teachers went on a OEA-authorized one-day strike over the district’s plan to close schools due to low enrollment. The second union strike in just three years. 

February 21, 2019 — A week-long teachers strike authorized by OEA. Before the strike, the district had offered a seven percent raise over three years in addition to a retroactive 1.5 percent bonus. 

December 10, 2018 — Oakland high school teachers held a one-day “Wildcat Strike” over wages. Teachers said the union’s tactics were top-down and ineffective. While the union did not sanction the strike, OEA President Keith Brown said he supported the striking teachers’ message and understood the urgency of their demands.

May 7, 2015 — OEA teachers voted to authorize strike action if the union’s executive board could not come to an agreement with Oakland Unified in its year-long bargaining for a new contract.

April 29, 2010 — Oakland teachers held a OEA-authorized one-day strike to oppose the school district’s decision to end negotiations with the teachers union and impose a contract that included increased class size, elimination of adult education and zero increase in teacher pay.

April 9, 2006 — OEA reached a deal with Oakland Unified School District and averted a planned one-day teacher strike. Despite the settlement avoiding the planned strike, the Oakland school district told students to stay home anyway.

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