When I first saw a flier advertising the membership meeting (which, ahem, includes an unattributed Tribune photo apparently lifted from the Web), I was confused by what I read. Why a vote at this stage, weeks before a strike is legal?
Before the union can strike, both sides must agree on a neutral representative for a three-person “fact-finding” panel (along with representatives for the union and for the district administration). A hearing is held, usually within 10 days. Within 30 days of the hearing, the panel comes out with a report and a non-binding opinion.
Ten days later, if the two sides still haven’t reached agreement, the teachers can strike.
That could be more than seven weeks from now, and the district could change its proposal during that time. So, let’s say the teachers authorize a one-day strike, based on the current proposal, and that the district administration later offers a small raise. The union leadership would still be authorized to call the strike — though, of course, it doesn’t mean that they would.
Teachers union President Betty Olson-Jones said Wednesday’s membership meeting was scheduled about two months ago, and that her executive board had thought the fact-finding process would be further along by this point.
“We felt it was time to get the membership together and talk about where this is going because we’ve been negotiating for two years now,” she said.
Olson-Jones stressed that the membership was only voting on a one-day strike, and that they’d have to ratify any longer-term actions. She also said that if the district comes up with a more favorable proposal, she’d seek input from her school representatives and other members before taking action.
Still, the decision to call such a vote now doesn’t seem to bode well for labor peace in Oakland schools. Olson-Jones said she doubted the district would change its proposal, especially in light of news of further state cuts and a growing deficit.
Troy Christmas, the district’s director of labor relations, wouldn’t discuss the probability of a strike (Imagine that!). ”We are so far from that at this point that we aren’t in that mindset at all,” he said.
File photo by Aric Crabb/Oakland Tribune