Striking Oakland teachers hold signs reading "Huelga!" and "Strike for our students!" on the picket line at Oakland Technical High School on Thursday, May 4, 2023.
Oakland teachers hold signs on the picket line at Elmhurst United Middle School on Thursday, May 4, 2023. Credit: Amir Aziz

This story was last updated at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday.

The Oakland Education Association teachers union began a strike Thursday morning, after seven months of unsuccessful contract negotiations with Oakland Unified School District. The strike is impacting 34,000 OUSD students and comes with three weeks remaining in the school year, which ends May 25.

OEA members began picketing around 7 a.m. in front of the district’s 80 schools, in response to deadlocked negotiations with the district over issues like pay, hours, and other working conditions. 

At Oakland Technical High School, about 30 energized people showed up early to the picket line, carrying signs that read “Ready to strike for a fair contract” and “Defend public education strike to win.” 

As cars drove by, drivers heard their chants—“When I say union, you say power,” and “Teachers and families must unite, education is a human right”—and many honked in support.

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Oakland teachers and their supporters took to the picket lines on Thursday, May 4, 2023, to strike over contract negotiations with the school district regarding pay, hours, and other working conditions. Credit: Amir Aziz

OEA represents about 3,000 OUSD teachers, counselors, nurses, social workers, and substitutes. The union has accused OUSD of bargaining in bad faith, while district officials maintain that they have put forward competitive proposals that would raise teachers’ salaries by 13 to 22%. The union has not said when the strike could end, but both teams are continuing to bargain.  

As the picket lines at Oakland Tech grew, students who arrived at school were guided to enter through a pedestrian gate by the auditorium. Other children of parents who’d joined the picket line who are not attending school, kicked around a soccer ball or talked with their friends. 

While schools remain open, little instruction is happening inside while teachers are striking. Principals and central office staff have been assigned to schools to supervise, according to the school district.

OEA’s demands include salary increases of about 23%, the creation of equitable workloads for educators, smaller class sizes, and increased resources for school safety. 

Sonja Travick, who started working as a performing arts educator at Oakland Tech 30 years ago, joined the educators on the picket line on Thursday morning. She expressed frustration with OUSD over the lack of support and resources that young teachers and students receive. 

At Elmhurst United Middle School, teachers and supporters stand along the picket lines on Thursday, May 4, 2023. Credit: Amir Aziz

“It’s important that students are not constantly living in a state of inequity,” said Travick. “Visual and performing arts should be expanded to all schools as every kid deserves to have access to the arts, no matter what their economic status is.”

Travick has been active at the bargaining table and says that educators should not have to work multiple part-time jobs in order to pay for rent. 

Ellen Dahlke became a 10th and 11th-grade English teacher at Oakland Tech about four years ago and said she’s been disappointed at how OUSD has responded to OEA’s pay demands. Dahlke said that OUSD’s recent announcement on salary numbers for teachers, counselors, nurses, and psychologists are numbers that have never been brought to the bargaining table.

“I really believe that what we do has value and that kids deserve safe school communities that are racially just and joyful,” said Dahlke. “It’s insulting when your life’s work is not valued by the people who are in the position that makes decisions for us and our kids.”

Kylise Hare, a 9th-grade STEM/Biology teacher at Oakland Tech for five years, said she’s not just on the picket line because she’s a teacher; she’s also there for school staff members such as counselors. 

“Students who go into a counselor’s office go in with their shoulders hunched and walk out visibly happy that their problems are solved,” said Hare. “Counselors were offered a smaller raise than teachers and were asked to teach on top of the amount of work they do.”

Some OUSD parents have mixed feelings about the strike

Some parents have expressed frustration that their students’ instruction is being disrupted again. In March, some Oakland educators held an unauthorized walkout at middle and high schools, nearly a year after OEA’s last strike in April 2022. That strike lasted for one day to protest the district’s school closure plan. Students were also out of school doing distance learning for a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Micaela Mazzini attended OUSD schools and said her mother and grandmother taught in the district for decades. She currently has one child in OUSD and another in a private school.

“While I believe teachers deserve more pay, I don’t support this strike in the last few weeks of school,” she told The Oaklandside on Wednesday. “I find it unpardonable to continue to disrupt students that have already been affected by COVID and remote learning so recently. I feel they should continue to bargain through the summer when it would be less of a burden on students and families.”

Sarah Rothe, a licensed social worker who provides therapy to students across OUSD and the parent of a second grader and an incoming kindergartener, also spoke with The Oaklandside on Wednesday. She said OEA’s social workers put together a proposal that asks for their own salary schedule, instead of being paid on the teachers’ pay grades, creating better systems to support social workers, and paying more for licensing or additional language skills.

Signs in front of Manzanita Community School in support of Oakland teachers on the first day of the strike beginning May 4, 2023. Credit: Amir Aziz

As a parent and OUSD employee, Rothe said that the uncertainty ahead of the strike had been stressful, and with the length of the strike unknown, the idea of not being paid adds to that, especially since her husband has been laid off. But until now, it didn’t seem like district leaders were taking all of the proposals seriously, she said.

“I do feel that while there’s been movement on compensation, there are a lot of issues and proposals that the district has not engaged with,” she said. “I’m worried about a lot of the students I serve. It is disruptive to them and I wish we didn’t have to do this. It would be better for everyone if I could continue providing services.”

OUSD officials say it was the union that broke off negotiations

OUSD held a press conference at 11 a.m. on Thursday downtown, where Superintendent Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell and school board President Mike Hutchinson expressed their disappointment in OEA’s decision to strike.

“Our communities are suffering as kids who depend on us for safety, stability, and education are out of school, adults scrambling,” said Johnson-Trammell. “I have appreciated the progress we have recently made with OEA and believe that we will continue to align towards a shared vision and purpose for the common good.”

Johnson-Trammell added that OUSD’s recent proposal to invest about $70 million towards teacher compensation, including a 10% retroactive raise and a $5,000 one-time bonus would give classroom teachers an increase in their salary for the next year. 

She said increasing teacher compensation has been a priority for the district, but that increasing staff salaries will have repercussions for other spending. “[Prioritizing] compensation as a retention strategy, there is very little remaining resources that address other issues,” Johnson-Trammell said.

OUSD Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell speaks at a press conference addressing the Oakland teachers strike on Thursday, May 4, 2023.
OUSD Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell speaks at a press conference addressing the Oakland teachers strike on Thursday, May 4, 2023. Credit: Amir Aziz

Hutchinson said OEA’s claims that the district has not been at the bargaining table are incorrect, citing that OUSD school board members and Superintendent Johnson-Trammell have attended negotiating sessions with OEA for months, and daily over the past week. He noted that Alameda County Superintendent Alysse Castro and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond were also at the bargaining table this week.

“They’ve left the table and broken off discussion, not us,” Hutchinson said of the union. “The only way we can settle a contract is if everyone comes back to the table.”

While Hutchinson spoke, several of his colleagues on the board—D2 Director Jennifer Brouhard, D6 Director Valarie Bachelor, and D3 Director VanCedric Williams—turned their backs in an apparent show of support for the striking teachers.

OUSD board directors Brouhard, Bachelor, and Williams turn their back on board president Mike Hutchinson during a press conference addressing the OEA strike on Thursday, May 4, 2023.
OUSD board directors Brouhard, Bachelor, and Williams turn their back on board president Mike Hutchinson during a press conference addressing the OEA strike on Thursday, May 4, 2023. Credit: Amir Aziz

State superintendent offers to intervene

​​On Thursday, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond offered to formally mediate negotiations between OEA and OUSD. In a statement released Thursday, Thurmond said he was disappointed that the sides couldn’t come to an agreement to avoid a strike. He and his team had joined in negotiations in the days leading up to the strike.

“We observed how hard both sides worked and will start immediately working with the parties in a formal mediation capacity. Our goal is to help the parties reach an agreement and to end the strike so that students can return to class as quickly as possible.”

Thurmond also acted as a mediator during negotiations in 2019, when OEA went on a seven-day strike after reaching an impasse with the district. Thurmond’s statement said the mediation process took 30 hours to reach an agreement.

Downtown rally caps first day of OEA strike

U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee speaks to OEA members and supporters during a rally at Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland on May 4, 2023.
U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee speaks to OEA members and supporters during a rally at Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland on May 4, 2023. Credit: Amir Aziz

Day one of the Oakland teachers strike included a rally at 12:30 p.m. at Frank Ogawa Plaza, where hundreds of people gathered, many holding picket signs or playing musical instruments, to show support for Oakland educators. 

The rally featured speakers including U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, chants, and artists who ad-libbed lyrics to energize the crowd.

OEA vice president Ismael Armendariz told the crowd it was the union’s job to ensure that everyone at OUSD it represents, including special education teachers, speech pathologists, and social workers, is given a voice at the bargaining table. 

“We are in a moment now where we have to make the choice,” said Armendariz. “Are we going to allow a dysfunctional school board, who can’t make a meeting, determine our contract?”

School board directors Brouhard, Williams, and Bachelor, also spoke at the rally and expressed solidarity with OEA. 

“We have a school board where half of the board does not have your interests in mind,” said Brouhard. “The three of us are working hard to get this contract and we will be on the picket line tomorrow morning.”

Williams repeatedly chanted, “We get stronger!” after each sentence in his speech, in which he praised Oakland educators for working through challenges such as school closures and inadequate pay.

“When the district gets weak, we get stronger because our kids are involved,” said Williams. “We need policies from community schools that will invest in the future of our young folks.”

Bachelor expressed sorrow that OUSD hadn’t met OEA’s contract demands, despite months of bargaining. 

“I know how hard you all work and how hard it is to go on strike,” she said. “You all show leadership in your classrooms every single day yet we cannot on the school board pass any sort of resolution that can support you and end this strike.”

OEA plans to return to the picket line starting at 7:30 a.m. Friday morning, if all bargaining demands aren’t met. At 12:30 p.m., another rally will be held at the former site of Parker Elementary on 7929 Ney Ave. in East Oakland, with an assortment of speakers and artists.

Gisselle Medina's identity consists of multitudes—a Latinx, queer, non-binary from Los Angeles. They are a student at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism specializing in Narrative Writing and Multimedia. Through their reporting, they work to contribute to elevating diverse communities through investigating and accurately reporting on deep-rooted issues such as unequal access to mental health resources and racial inequality.

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.