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Oakland teachers vote for one-day strike

Hundreds of Oakland teachers union members who turned out to a meeting tonight voted to authorize its leadership to call a strike, once it’s legal.

The vote: 726 yes, 45 no.

The Oakland Education Association represents about 2,800 employees, including teachers, counselors and librarians, according to its Web site. If you round up to 800 participants (and if the 2,800 figure is accurate), voter participation comes to about 29 percent.

“It’s a real clear message to the bargaining team that they have the support of the membership,” said union President Betty Olson-Jones.

As I wrote in an earlier blog post, this doesn’t mean there will be a strike, and it could be weeks before the union can take such an action. But Olson-Jones has said she’s not optimistic the district will offer teachers a raise; the district’s chief financial officer has projected a deficit of nearly $40 million for 2010-11.

Next week, we learn more about how the new superintendent plans to make those cuts.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • harlemmoon04

    A preemptive strike, so to speak, speaks volumes about the sorry state of affairs in Oakland generally and OUSD in particular.

    Why take this route and erode what little relationship their is between the union and the administration?

    Circus antics are hardly the answer in such desperate times.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Harlemmoom04, you simply are making yourself seem ignorant. There has been ZERO (positive) relationship between the union and the district for nearly a decade.

    First we were told we had to take a paycut because the district was broke.

    Then, next go around, we were told we had to take a pay freeze because the state was controlling things and the state superintendent of schools hates unions.

    Now were are being told we should continue to not receive even cost of living raises and start paying for our own healthcare because there is a recession.

    Bull. The money is there, it is a matter of priorities.

    We have been without a contract for nearly two years. In that time the district has only offered pay cuts, an immediate cap on health benefits and increasing class size. The DISTRICT declared impasse, they night before the state handed over the keys to the board, when the union wanted to CONTINUE negotiating.

    Here’s a factoid: The state MANDATES districts spend at LEAST 55 percent of their money on teacher/aide salaries. OUSD is always under that and current spends just 45 percent — violation of the law.

    Another one: Even after adding our benefits package to our salary, we are the LOWEST paid teachers in Alameda County. If you do it just by salary, we are paid 20 percent less than the NEXT lowest-paid district in the county, despite having some of the highest cost of housing in the county.

    Finally, remember, this ties directly to education of students:

    – The union membership are fighting to maintain class-size reduction programs that are being abandoned by the district as fast as the law allows.

    – Pay is one of the key factors in recruitment and retention of quality teachers. There is perhaps no problem in OUSD that is more significant than the turnover of teachers in both regular and charter schools.

    Finally, I’ll note that every hour we have to spend fighting for a fair deal is an hour we can’t work our nightly unpaid overtime prepping for class and assessing your children’s growth and learning.

  • Harold

    i don’t understand the anti-unionism, expressed on this blog and in some sections of our community.

    You don’t like unions?

    Who made the workplace safe? unions.

    40 hour work week? unions.

    protection against reprisals? unions.

    child-labor laws? unions.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Harold, some think the unions are an anachronism we no longer need now that all the technocrat CEOs are making everybody rich.

    Er, oops!

    In their defense, many unions over the years have had crummy leaders that gave the labor movement a bad name. They can be corrupt, lazy or dumb, if their membership doesn’t regulate from below.

    I’m a fan of the current OEA leadership — they are morally clean, and passionate about the right things.

  • Nextset

    Cranky: Unions are important and the membership needs to work to stick together. Having said that, the OUSD staff are probably being paid better than they need to be and they are going to see real pay cuts now. It’s only a matter of negotiating something quick and locking it in to deprive OUSD of the ability to impose unilateral cuts – whcih they can do if there is no contract.

    When I say “they need to be” I mean the teachers can be replaced in this market for the lower pay. The schools need not (agree to) pay any more than the market will bear.

    To the extent the teachers or any other laborers believe they have to be paid what is “fair” and “right” they need a reality check. They and many other workers in the Brave New World are about to see their real earnings and their standards of living decline significantly. That’s what happens when CA bankrupts the state with the Democratic Party’s Marxist/Socialist legislation of the past 30 years. If you kill your tax base and legislate welfare entitlements that attract the 3rd world and grows your parasite class, there is no money for anything and the state becomes a failed state. Los Angeles, for example. Compare the schools and public hospitals in 1965 to now. Plot what is going to happen to them in 2020. “No Money” means No Money. The small percentage of earners who pay most of the tax revenue are leaving for retreat states. The professional Baby Boomers are following them out upon retirement.

    I predict severe labor unrest followed by declining working and teaching conditions in OUSD. And I predict automation of many teaching functions. There’s no other way.

  • harlemmoon04

    Cranky, am I ignorant because I don’t support unions or their oofish tactics? Am I ignorant because I don’t think it makes economic sense to offer raises in unprecedented, tight economic times?
    C’mon, Cranky, stop the name calling (lest you reveal yourself to be the truly ignorant one) and make room for different views.

    Now, back to the issue:

    Now that the union has revealed its hand, what incentive is there for the administration to play ball?

    You’re right on one point, Cranky, there hasn’t been a relationship between both sides for some time. This, “I dare ya” move by the union, doesn’t help.

  • TheTruthHurts

    Clearly the administration has to account as to why OUSD staff are paid less than their counterparts in other districts. That cannot continue indefinitely and we “Expect Success.”

    That said, with other districts cutting pay, benefits, raising class sizes, laying off workers, furloughs, etc. they may not be the model to follow.

    I stick by what I said before. I’d be pissed if my teacher went on strike for not getting a raise while I was accepting a pay cut, while my benefits were worse and while I still work June – August.

    I think our new president should be working so teachers are among the most well compensated (not just in money) of all professions. It is hard to quantify the value of shaping a life and that is exactly what teachers can do – for better or worse. I know plenty of outstanding individuals that won’t teach because the pay just won’t cut it. As a nation, we can not keep relying on the “do gooders” to educate (and in some cases, ‘raise’) our future. We need a ‘system’ that encourages our best to seek the social, psychological, emotional, spiritual and yes, financial rewards of teaching.

    ‘Everybody’ says that. But until people put their money on the line, it’s just talk. That’s what I’d be pissed about if I were a teacher. I’d be less pissed that a broke district in a broke city in a broke state wasn’t coming off more cash.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Sorry if you felt insulted. Your claim was that authorizing a labor action (a one-day strike) would harm the negotiations between the parties. To me, this meant you didn’t know that:

    a) the district declared an end to the negotiations unilaterally several months ago;

    b) the abysmal history of bad blood between the teachers and unions since the state takeover means there is no mutual trust to undermine;

    c) allowing the union’s members to vote on the current offer on the table and to make a show of support for the bargaining table was the sign of an active and democratic union, not “circus antics.”

    If you are going to imply we are circus clowns or animals, you shouldn’t be surpised if we get a little grouchy in return.

    Plus, I have a name to live up to, lol.

  • Cranky Teacher

    TheTruthHurts, I hear you but:

    Part of getting “people [to] put their money on the line” is to let them know how bad the situation is here. This is about the students of Oakland, not the teachers who work here — most of whom work for less than they could make elsewhere because they are “do-gooders,” as you put it. We are saying, no the status quo is unacceptable — the money is here in this state, do the right thing.

    The cuts in higher education are analogous: Students and allies aren’t protesting the recession, they’re saying the money is out there to keep our college system accessible to the poor and WE MUST come up with the money somehow.

    California is definitely not broke, by the way — our state government has a deficit between revenue and expenditures. If I lived in the 98% of the world that is poorer than California’s average income-taxpayer I’d be pretty insulted to hear us whine so much.

    Californians are getting what they do or don’t pay for — we pay state income taxes because once upon a time our goal was to be the best damn state with the best damn public schools, the best roads, the best hospitals and mental health care facilities. Starting with Gov. Reagan and continuing with Prop.13, that dream was abandoned, in favor of the rich barricading themselves behind gates and letting everybody else fend for themselves.

    We sow what we reap.

    BTW, most teachers work most or all of the summer. The landlord still wants the rent money in August, and PG&E still charges for electricity in July, lol.

  • harlemmoon

    Can anyone tell me how a strike helps the students?

  • http://www.cpa.com len raphael

    Cranky, i’m not questioning your motives, but even assuming most teachers in oakland teach because they’re “do gooders” how many of them wouldn’t switch to Berkeley if there were openings there?

    But overall, there are many Oakland SF jobs that pay surprisingly low wages, or wages out of proportion with the high cost of living here. The infamous Gov Jerry Brown line telling unhappy UC staff they should be happy to get “psychic” dollars has some truth in that historically people are willing to accept surprising low wages in exchange for the weather, culture etc. As rents and housing costs drop here, that might continue at least for intangible skill type people.

  • Nextset

    The union does not “owe” the students, they owe their members. If a strike is in the interests of the membership then strike it is. We should all try to avoid fantasy relationships and get real about how life is.

    Nobody is worried that OUSD’s management is anyting like Ronald Reagan towards the air traffic controllers. The union has little to fear in the way of retaliation.

    Workers of the state unite –

    You are going to see lots of labor unrest in the future. That’s what happens when the government crashes the economy.

  • Richard Thompson

    As Oakland residents are aware, the OUSD school board recently gave themselves a 5% increase in annual compensation. (It is also my understanding that Board Members receive full medical benefits for themselves and their families, with no contribution required of them selves. Wouldn’t that be nice.) This %5 increase totals an additional $450.00 a year, not a huge amount. But the amount is not the point. (I need to state that the vote in favor of the increase was not unanimous. Board President Gary Yee and Director Jody London voted against it, to which I will say, “Thank you for your leadership.”)

    This increase comes at a time when we teachers are told that we all have to do with less. OUSD teachers have been without a real raise in several years. Cost of Living Allowance monies that were approved by voters to go to teachers have not been used for that purpose

    I have been with the District for 8 years. Teachers that have a longer tenure than I, have told me of giving up raises in order to keep other teachers on the payroll. OUSD teachers also gave up 3% several years ago to help the district pay down the debt that got us into this mess. (This 3% was only recovered after our agreeing to work an extra 3 ‘buy back’ days a year.) The State took over and put us deeper into debt.

    We are all in a world of hurt. Teachers know that our current dilemma here in Oakland is also affected by the national economic downturn of the past two years. I would like to submit that while the country and the state have been in recession since December of 2007, OUSD teachers have been in ‘recession’ for the past 6-8 years. We are stretched beyond limit. We could also use an extra $450 a year. For many of us that would provide money at holiday time (just passed), help with a bill or two, or provide an extra ‘cushion’, or go to help pay increased property taxes. For the Board to give themselves a raise at this time is unconscionable.

    We OUSD teachers have time and again shown our commitment to the children of Oakland and to Public Education. Does anyone really doubt why we voted to reject the District’s ‘last and best offer’?

    Respectfully submitted,

    Richard Thompson
    OUSD Teacher

  • Cranky Teacher

    harlemmoon Says:
    January 22nd, 2010 at 3:38 pm
    “Can anyone tell me how a strike helps the students?”

    A strike is not good for students BUT A FAIR DEAL FOR TEACHERS IS.

    Here’s how: Higher wages and benefits decrease turnover. Turnover of OUSD teachers has a direct link to student achievement, dropout rates and so on.

    Lesser benefits: Improved morale leads to better teaching; teachers earning a living wage models for students that education pays; teachers standing up for themselves is a positive model for students in a democratic society.

  • Cranky Teacher

    len raphael Says:
    January 22nd, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    “Cranky, i’m not questioning your motives, but even assuming most teachers in oakland teach because they’re “do gooders” how many of them wouldn’t switch to Berkeley if there were openings there?”

    I’m not really sure I understand your point, Len.

    In any case, Berkeley pays only slightly more than Oakland, has a similar demographic mix of students and a huge “achievement gap,” has serious administrative problems in several divisions (human resources, special ed) and rents are even higher there.

    I can’t speak for other teachers, but I want to be right where I am, in Oakland — but I’d rather not feel like a sucker and accept whatever crumbs the anti-union Eli Broad-trained management team wants to give us after ten years of wage stagnancy.

    Perhaps the confusion is this: Most of us LOVE our students in Oakland, even though they can sometimes be heartbreaking, challenging, etc.

    I would do this job for LESS, and may have to if the sky-is-falling crowd are correct. Yet that doesn’t mean I have to stand quietly by while our society continues to give up on its committment to a fair and democratic society.

  • Steven Weinberg

    My school had two excellent young teachers take jobs in Hayward this year at least in part due to the significantly hired salaries there. The only year my school had an influx of experienced teachers from outside the district to fill our vacancies was the year of the Chaconas pay increase (and when salaries were rolled back, they left).
    Oakland’s low teacher salaries do hurt students.

  • http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com/ Sharon Higgins

    To tag onto what Steven just reported: A long-time teacher at Bret Harte once told me that the year Chaconas gave the pay increase, the school got an influx of really strong teachers. I knew exactly who he meant, and they were very, very good. They also didn’t seem to mind working with a challenging population of kids. But eventually after four or five years, almost all of that set left for greener pastures elsewhere, even though they liked working at the school. I can think of two who would have stayed, if they could have afforded a basic house in Oakland.

    When it comes to competing for strong teachers, salary does make a difference.

  • Union Supporter-But

    Sharon: These teachers did not leave just because of the pay – they left because of the bureaucracy and situations at the school and the district. To say that the two teachers I know of that were excellent and left Bret Harte left for advancement, freedom to teach in a manner that showed their leadership skills to a wide variety of students, training opportunities (their training and the peer training they provided to others), for the money and for an organized districted that was not under state control.

    It was NOT just for the money.