On Thursday, what’s a school secretary to do?

school secretary, by savageartworks' photostream at flickr.com/creativecommons

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?

Katy Murphy

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

  • Union Stated

    At the OEA emergency meeting, we were told that any member of another union [secretary, janitor, etc] can call their boss and say, “There is a picket line, I don’t feel safe crossing it. I can’t go to work today.” —- and they won’t be docked a days pay.

  • aly

    i’m sorry but that is the lamest excuse ever, and if it’s true then OEA better really think about how it goes about getting what it wants- your colleagues should never make you fear for your safety.

    i won’t be afraid thursday, but i’ll feel sad and uncomfortable. unfortunately those emotions don’t override my contractual and professional obligations to our students.

  • Union Stated

    we were also told not to express any displeasure or anger at our “brothers and sisters” of other unions.

  • Jill

    Excuse me? We are being told that students and families can’t be punished for staying away from school because we are allowed to show support as part of some “agreement” between the union and the District, but the “agreement” only goes one way? I don’t think so! I hope that teachers and the families supporting them who are on the picket lines show the same “courtesy” of allowing staff and students entering the schools to show their suppport, (or lack or support, or just plain being stuck in the middle, or not having a choice but to show up at school) that they seem to expect/demand from the school and District. It is not only wrong for an individual, or heaven help us a child, to be threatened or made to feel unsafe for going to school, but it would be a public relations nightmare for a union that seems to be winning a lot of public support right now.

  • oakey

    Sure wished those employed by OUSD cared as much about the students as their fellow union brothers and sisters.

  • Chauncey

    Brother and sisters? Sound like a religion to me.For the Marxist liberals who have eroded Oakland-this was utopia until now.

    The dollar crash even effects the Marxist bunch

    Can I get a witness? Where my brothers at?

  • starshaped

    Look, no certificated staff is going to be called a ‘scab’ for crossing the picket line. There really is a lot of divergent information out there. How are they to know if information is not given directly to them by their own union? I would love, love, love if they wouldn’t cross the line but would never assume its going to happen. The same goes for the students. No teacher worth his or her salt, is going to impede a student coming to school. Many parents simply do not have the luxury of getting outside care. What was said at the emergency OEA meeting was that fellow union employees can SAY they didn’t feel safe crossing. We won’t be coming after them with sticks or anything. Jeesh!

  • localed

    the rumor is that OEA has been pressuring the other unions and suggesting that crossing the line isn’t safe. can anyone from OEA speak to that?

  • Jesse James

    Having been on strike at least 3 times now, strikes can be quite ugly. Scuffles and vandalism are not uncommon events. At my school, staff has been calling people who cross scabs since September. Other district unions have always crossed. I’ve seen truck drivers turn around but that’s it. I think it has to do a lot with mob mentality–we’ve gotten riled up enough to walk out, why aren’t you? Friendships have been ruined over strikes. It is ugly. And yes, these are the same people who teach children conflict resolution. But as a union this seems to be an, and now, the only, tool with which to negotiate. Is there another way?

  • Just a thought…

    So, a question:

    How many teachers would stay out to honor a strike by cafeteria workers or noon supervisors or clerks? How strong are those claims of purported brotherhood or sisterhood in this case? Classified staff that stay out will lose a day’s pay, a year’s credit in their state retirement (same as will happen to all striking OEA members) AND the possibility of discipline up to and including dismissal (which WON’T happen to OEA strikers).

    And, by the way, if the OEA strikers are making people feel unsafe at their pickets, they are violating the law. So you want the classified staff to lie to their bosses, or are you going to make them feel unsafe and violate their right to work?

    What does it mean to ask someone making $21,000 a year to lose a day’s pay and take a hit to their retirement? Is it the same sacrifice striking OEA members are making?

  • Cheuy_Leuy

    If the Alameda Labor Council supports the OEA strike, why didn’t they help take a stand when the other unions negotiated “no strike” clauses? Why would any union allow that to happen to its members?

  • Frustrated


    At drop-off this morning a teacher handing out strike information told me that Thursday is now minimum school day. The district website and strike hotline does not indicate this. Have you heard about this? It makes a difference in terms of after school enrichment activities.

    Thank you!

  • Steven Weinberg

    Just A Thought #10 is incorrect about the effect of the strike on teacher retirement benefits. Teachers do not lose a year’s credit if they strike for one day, they lose 1/186th of a year’s credit. In addition, if they worked any overtime, such as covering classes during the year for absent teachers or attending paid inservice, that time can offset the deduction.

  • Ms. J.

    I just wanted to comment that I have not heard ANYONE at my site say anything threatening or unfriendly to members of other unions or dissenting OEA members.

    Of course there may be some of that going on, but what I see and hear sounds like solidarity with a twist of compassion. One OEA member at our site has concluded that she cannot join us on the picket line after having done the retirement math, and I respect her both as a colleague and as a professional. I feel sorry that she has had to make that decision but I do not second-guess it.

    I feel a bit defensive at the tone of #10 and some other comments, but I recognize that the situation at my school might be more peaceful than at others. For my part, I am telling families and my teaching assistant that I will not be here. I am telling them why. I am telling them that there will be school but that most of the teachers will not be teaching. If they want to talk more, I will do that. That is all. I do not think anyone is being made to feel unsafe or threatened here.

  • Cheuy_Leuy

    @ #10, #13:

    Do you really believe the pensions will be delivered as “promised?” Consider the following which predicts projected funding levels will be based on future taxpayer revenues at huge levels to even think alternatives will be needed than otherwise stated:


    This is even more reason for all who can to support this strike…what really is 1/186?

  • Sylvia Dillard

    It is unfortunate that a strike is necessary. Our children, the students are the ones who will be adversely affected. Even if there are sub’s to cover classes,(babysitters),the instruction will not be what the teacher has been working on with the students. I support the teachers who have an important job to prepare our students to become productive citizens and they should be more valued than they are.

  • Starshaped

    I think some people have missed the point, teachers are NOT going to harrass other union workers. The other union workers just have to SAY they don’t feel safe. Those worker cannot be penalized because their health and safety are the primary concern. There may be some teachers that act in an inappropriate manner, but they are in the minority.

    Also, taking a one day strike day near someone’s retirement is not going to make a dent in their STRS. If they have any sick days banked up, that takes care of it. If they don’t, it is literally pennies a day. So the retirement thing doesn’t fly with me.

    Although, it is unfortunate that there are hard feelings and resentment of those who benefit from others suffering, i.e. strike breakers vs strikers, it is going to happen. Any strike breaker has to weigh the benefits of crossing the line with losing face/respect of their colleagues. One would hope that as we are all adults, those hard feelings would be kept to ones self and not used to bully or belittle others. Just a thought.

  • TheTruthHurts

    Where is the common sense people?! Jesse James in Post #9 is telling what life in the big city is really about. Sure, we’d hope that rifts would heal that people would disagree without being disagreeable, but that’s not reality – it’s not the truth.

    I pray there is no violence or vandalism, but it happens. Labor strife is not pretty. People who feel all other options are exhausted have a tendency to act out. Me, I’d just quit, but hey, I understand the personal commitment that some feel.

    Fact is April 29th is a WORK DAY. Some will not work because “my union made me do it.” Some will not work due to “personal conviction.” Some will not work due to all kinds of “fear”, justified or not. No matter, grownups are making grownup decisions and are subject to grownup consequences. It’s really that simple.

    Frankly, it begins to sound like whining when people can’t make a decision, stand behind it and suffer the consequences. I know it’s hard, I know it’s uncomfortable, but it’s also life.

    Am I missing something or is it that the truth just hurts sometimes?

  • Cranky Teacher

    @ Just a thought…

    “How many teachers would stay out to honor a strike by cafeteria workers or noon supervisors or clerks?”

    While I don’t know what a noon supervisor is, I can definitely say with confidence I would never cross a picket line to shop or work. I have no idea with the overall percentage would be, but I know I’m not alone.

  • Harlemmoon

    The union ought to consider itself blessed that Tony Smith isn’t inclined to mete out a Reaganesque response to strikers. And to that i say: “Too bad!”

  • Katy Murphy

    Sorry for the late response. There’s no minimum day tomorrow, according to Troy Flint.

  • Sad Teacher

    I will be crossing the line tomorrow to help take care of the children who come to school. It is a scary time for them and they need the stability that familiar faces can provide. We are not shutting down a factory here -stopping trucks that deliver car parts is quite different from stopping trucks that deliver student lunches. Being mean to “scabs” who want a day’s pay but who do not want to (and could not) take our jobs is similarly pointless. The union model does not make sense in a profession such as teaching.

  • Gordon Danning


    There are 26,200 air traffic controllers in the entire USA. http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos108.htm#emply. Plus, they need only a bachelors’ degree. So, they were relatively easy to replace. The numbers re: teachers make it impossible to just fire them.

    As for claims that some have made that the district is trying to “bust” the union, well that ain’t going to happen either — there’s a reason that public employees make up a huge proportion of the remaining union members in the USA.

    So, what say both sides just chill with the silly rhetoric.

  • Turanga_teach

    I’m an OUSD teacher, and I supervise a large number of paraprofessionals. All of whom were afraid for their jobs after getting an insanely overblown release on OUSD letterhead which indicated that disciplinary actions (including the actual word “termination”) could be taken against people who don’t show. It made the union letter on school conditions Thursday look like we were promising the children milk, cookies, and one-to-one math instruction if they showed up on strike day.

    This is blatant fear-mongering, unsubstantiated by OUSD’s own adopted disciplinary policies for unauthorized absences. Hyperbole’s not helpful, whatever side you’re on.

  • recovering socalist

    Since this is an edu bloggie, lemmie say it’s “sympathy strike,” not “sympathetic strike.”

  • Katy Murphy

    Whoops. Thanks for the strike terminology lesson, “recovering socialist.”

    Since someone brought up the letter sent by OUSD to classified employees, I thought I’d paste some of it here to you can read it for yourselves:

    It is important for all employees to know that District administration understands that any employee strike puts all employees in an uncomfortable situation. We understand that employees may feel sympathetic toward the cause of their colleagues and want to support them. We hope that all employees also remember that we have moral and contractual obligations in service of students. This brief FAQ is not meant to resolve the uncomfortable nature of any strike, but rather to clarify the legal rights and responsibilities of employees.

    Am I required to work on April 29?
    Thursday, April 29 will be a work day for all employees. Employees who are absent without pre-authorization will be considered absent without leave and incur associated financial and retirement consequences. In our current labor agreements, we have specific provisions dealing with strikes or work stoppages of other units. All such provisions provide that participation in such activities is subject to discipline, up to and including termination. We understand that you may wish to exercise your conscience by not crossing a picket line, but such a decision will subject you to the consequences indicated. This is not to state that the District has planned any specific action in response to unauthorized absences. It is simply meant to reinforce the responsibilities of employees and our rights as an employer. Again, April 29 is a work day and there is no provision for not being at work other than identified leave policies. We have been in direct consultation with union representatives, including SEIU and AFSCME and are confident that our understanding and our expectations of employees are shared with union leadership.

    What if I’m sick?
    All employees who are sick will be asked to provide written verification as provided in their labor contract with the District. Failure to do so will be considered abuse of sick leave policies and subject to loss of pay and discipline.

    What if there is a picket line?
    As with any work day, if there is an obstruction at the work location that makes entry unsafe (not just uncomfortable), we expect employees to call your administrator for assistance and await that assistance in order to enter the premises. If your administrator cannot be reached, the Oakland School Police can be reached at (510) 224-1001 and Custodial Services can be reached at (510) 879-8400.