Teachers will be on strike Thursday. But what about your school secretary and custodian? Your teacher’s aide (where applicable)?
There’s been some confusion among district employees about whether the `other unions’ — the SEIU and AFSCME, mainly — will show up to work or stand with the teachers. I can empathize with the confused: I contacted the local SEIU office at least twice, called the Pasadena-based employee hotline, questioned the public relations guy, e-mailed the OUSD rep and got nowhere.
Poor timing, maybe, but there might be another reason: These unions are in a tough spot. They reached agreements with the Oakland school district months ago, or even longer, and guess what? Those contracts include no-strike clauses. This means they can’t legally call a sympathetic strike. At the same time, as the SEIU media relations guy from Pasadena told me (before promising to call me back after he “double-checked,” which he didn’t), unions don’t make a habit of crossing other unions’ picket lines. And the Alameda Labor Council supports the teacher strike.
That might explain why the person who helped me piece this all together was Betty Olson-Jones, president of the teachers union. Or why some classified staff members aren’t getting a straight answer. Tell your members to respect the picket line, and the union — and the employees — might get in trouble. Tell them to go to work, and you’re undermining another union’s action.
So, if you’re an AFSCME member and you ask your leaders what to do on Thursday, you might well hear something like this (says Olson-Jones): Report to work, but if you reach the picket line and fear for your safety, call your supervisor and tell her so. They can’t ask you to put your health and well-being on the line.
Olson-Jones said she has told her members that the classified staff who work on Thursday “are not scabs” — but that her union has encouraged all employees to support the strike in some way.
This leaves me with a question for union employees in the school district who aren’t in the OEA: What will you do on Thursday? If you decide to work, will it be hard for you to cross the line? Are you at all worried about what will happen?