Several hundred OUSD teachers staged a "wildcat" strike—a walkout unsanctioned by the teachers union—to draw attention to ongoing contract negotiations over pay and working conditions. Credit: Amir Aziz

A few hundred Oakland teachers walked off their campuses Friday to call attention to ongoing contract negotiations between the teachers union and Oakland Unified School District over pay and other working conditions.

Educators from 14 middle and high schools joined picket lines at their campuses in the early morning before gathering at Frank Ogawa Plaza at 11 a.m. for a rally and march to the OUSD offices in downtown Oakland. The work stoppage was unauthorized by the Oakland Education Association (OEA) teachers union.

“We don’t want to withhold our labor. We’re teachers, we love children,” said David Byrd, a music teacher at Oakland High School. “The message it sends is the working class, as a tool to get what it deserves, can and will withhold its labor.”

OUSD and OEA, which represents nearly 3,000 teachers, nurses, counselors, and substitutes, have been negotiating a new contract for nearly six months, since the previous contract expired last October. The union has proposed a 22.97% salary increase, which teachers say would put them in line with median teacher pay in Alameda County. Oakland Unified has offered counter proposals that include raises of 3.5% to 4.5%, plus adjustments to the salary schedule that would increase the base salary for first-year teachers and reduce the number of years it takes to reach the district’s salary ceiling for teachers. Those offers combined, OUSD said, would amount to an 8% to 11% increase for teachers.

Andre San-Chez, a choir teacher at Westlake Middle School, leads a chant as teachers walk down Broadway to the school district offices. Credit: Amir Aziz

Outside of the school district office downtown, teachers marched in circles, sang chants, and spoke about the impact that low pay has on the district’s ability to retain teachers. 

“Teaching is probably the hardest job I’ve ever done. And every year, I have had the dilemma of, ‘Do I stay or do I leave?’ Because in many ways, it’s unsustainable, energetically and spiritually,” said Pristine Shin, a math teacher at Life Academy. “There are a lot of jobs that are really demanding, but a lot of the times demanding jobs get compensated for the work that is put in, and most of the labor that teachers do is overtime.”

Friday’s walkout was in response to the district’s recent counter proposals and recent budget cuts and layoffs that the school board approved earlier this month. Many of the layoffs included school support staff, like case managers, library technicians, and eliminating vacant positions like paraeducators, who support students with disabilities.

“I work very closely with the caseworkers at school and I’ve seen the impact that they have on me, so knowing that they could potentially be cut and not be at our school anymore shocked me,” said Aiyanna Muñiz, a junior at Oakland High School who joined her teachers on the picket line in front of her school Friday morning. “They take care of our mental health, and they look out for us in many different ways.”

A few hundred teachers participated in Friday’s action, which was not authorized by the Oakland Education Association teachers union. Credit: Amir Aziz

During the rally at Frank Ogawa Plaza, Vanessa Brooks spoke about her grandson, who has an individual education plan and requires extra support at school that she said he isn’t receiving. Earlier this year, Brooks said her family received a letter that her grandson, in the eighth grade, may not be eligible to graduate this year.

“If he’s failing, then the district is failing because they’re not giving us the required services that they’re obligated to do. So that’s why I’m out here fighting for him,” she told The Oaklandside. “He loves his teachers. He wants them to get the support and the income they need so that they’re not coming to school looking stressed. Because when they’re stressed, the kids get stressed because [the teachers] aren’t able to do the lesson plans and provide the support the kids need.”

In a statement Friday, OUSD said that all schools remained open, and students were encouraged to come to school. 

“Unfortunately, the action did keep some students out of school, and adversely impacted student access to instruction at some schools,” read the statement. “The district will continue to negotiate in good faith with OEA.”

Ashley McBride headshot

Ashley McBride writes about education equity for The Oaklandside. Her work covers Oakland’s public district and charter schools. Before joining The Oaklandside in 2020, Ashley was a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News and the San Francisco Chronicle as a Hearst Journalism Fellow, and has held positions at the Poynter Institute and the Palm Beach Post. Ashley earned her master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University.