The Oakland teachers strike reached a fifth day on Wednesday, with leaders from both the Oakland Education Association and Oakland Unified School District saying negotiations have progressed. But neither side has indicated when the strike could end, and Wednesday’s regularly scheduled school board meeting was canceled.
One point of contention continues to be a list of “common good” demands in the union’s contract proposal that isn’t directly tied to working conditions like pay or prep time. Those demands include implementing the district’s ethnic studies and reparations for Black students policies, establishing a community schools steering committee, pushing the district to secure Section 8 housing vouchers for OUSD students, using vacant district properties for housing, providing transportation to low-income students, and establishing an environmental safety committee to address facilities concerns like leaky ceilings or broken HVAC systems.
OEA has been on strike since May 4. The union, which also represents school counselors, psychologists, social workers, nurses, and substitutes, authorized the strike last week as an unfair labor practice strike, arguing that the school district’s bargaining team showed up to sessions unprepared or didn’t offer counter-proposals. The district and union have been negotiating since the strike began, and in recent days the sessions have lasted beyond midnight.
“I reject the idea that the district did not show up for negotiating or that the district was negotiating in bad faith,” school board president Mike Hutchinson told The Oaklandside by phone on Tuesday. “If there’s other things that need to be decided, we can keep negotiating, but our students need to be in school with our teachers.”
Hutchinson also spoke Tuesday night to roughly 300 parents, teachers, and others on a Zoom meeting organized by the OUSD Parent Student Advisory Committee to address questions about the strike and the school board’s role in the negotiations. He reiterated throughout the meeting that OUSD has remained at the table and that negotiations are ongoing, but offered little new information.
OEA interim president Ismael Armendariz said at a union press conference on Tuesday that it’s important for the common good demands to be included in the contract, so they can be enforced. “You can pass policy,” he said. “[But] when you put it in a contract, then we can hold the district accountable to doing that.”
In addition to the common good demands, Armendariz said the two sides remain apart on some of the district’s proposed changes to the salary schedule that determines teacher pay based on years of experience. “There’s a couple roadblocks that were in [the district’s proposal], really disenfranchising our veteran teachers who spent 20-25 years in the district. They would actually lose out on this deal.”
When asked whether the union could call off the strike to allow teachers to return to the classroom while continuing to negotiate with the school district, Armendariz indicated no. “We don’t trust the district to continue at the pace they are without striking,” he said. “There’s still a lot of mistrust there.”
The OUSD board and others are divided on the union’s ‘common good’ demands
The school board, which currently has six members, has been split on the issue of OEA’s common good demands. Three members, Jennifer Brouhard, VanCedric Williams, and Valarie Bachelor, have joined the union in urging the district’s bargaining team to discuss the common good demands with OEA, while other directors have said the demands should be left to the school board to discuss and implement, or left to OUSD to partner with other organizations on.
Director Sam Davis told The Oaklandside by phone that one of his concerns with OEA including the common good demands in contract negotiations is that doing so removes community groups with a stake in those issues—like the All City Council student union and the Parent Student Advisory Committee—as well as other employee unions that OUSD bargains with, from the conversation entirely. Davis also wondered whether strikes are the best way to address contentious issues.
“We had an unfair labor practice strike last year around school closures. Regardless of how you feel about school closures, was the strike really [what] helped us as a city resolve the issue?” Davis said. “Or having those arguments in the board room and then having a [school board] election?”
Parents have also appeared split on whether the common good demands should be relevant to contract negotiations. Outside of Melrose Leadership Academy on Tuesday, teachers, parents, and students carried signs and banners advocating for a fair contract and for safer schools. Donna Bransford, the mom of a third grader at Melrose, joined the picket line on Tuesday morning.
“I totally support the teachers continuing to stay on strike until those common good demands have been negotiated because I believe that those demands are now the most important issues for students in Oakland,” she said. “I really believe as a mom of a Black student in OUSD, those are vitally important things for my kids. If Black students in OUSD thrive, every kid thrives.”
Tomas Bayou, who has three daughters at OUSD schools in North Oakland, said in a phone interview that he and his family joined the picket lines on the first day of the strike to advocate for higher pay for teachers. But since then, Bayou said he’s come to question the union’s insistence on including the list of common good demands. He said the teachers union hasn’t engaged parents enough over what those demands entail, and feels they’d be more appropriate for the school board to discuss, since board directors are elected by the public.
“These common good areas need to go back to the public servants because they are accountable to me and the parents. The unions are not. They are accountable to the teachers,” Bayou told The Oaklandside on Tuesday.
Wednesday’s school board meeting was canceled hours before it was set to happen at 4 p.m., postponing the board’s end-of-year work with only a few regular meetings left before the summer recess. By the end of June, the school board must close the books on this year’s budget and pass a new budget for the 2023-2024 school year.
The board is also facing a May 21 deadline to decide how to fill the District 5 seat vacated in March by Hutchinson, who became the District 4 director. It can either fill the seat by board appointment or call for a special election. If the board makes no decision, then Alameda County Superintendent Alysse Castro will call for a special election, which could happen in November.
“As long as the strike is going on, it is very difficult to do any district business,” Hutchinson told The Oaklandside. “We need the strike to end. Our students need to be in school. This is not what this process was supposed to be like for us as we’re trying to have a new direction for our school district.”