I spent an hour outside a membership meeting at Oakland Technical High School this evening, talking with teachers about the labor dispute — and the big vote on a proposal that would authorize union leaders to call further actions, including a strike.
(An amendment to tonight’s proposal requires an indefinite strike to be approved by a majority of the union representatives at each school, in addition to the union’s 15-member executive board. Tonight’s vote tally should be available by late afternoon/early evening tomorrow.)
Here’s what they told me:
Kiernan Rok, a fourth-year special education teacher at Edna Brewer Middle School, said he and others at the meeting thought the union should “build on last Thursday,” the one-day strike. A longer-term strike would be a last resort, he said, but he is willing to do his part to secure a better contract. He said he had a meeting this morning with an instructional coach, an outside contractor; given the district’s financial constraints, he feels the district should rely more heavily on (and pay) experienced teachers. “There’s a lot of knowledge in this district; there’s a lot of experience.”
Emily Macy, a teacher at Oakland High who’s been in the district for almost two years, says she feels an attack on public education at the local, state and national level that’s resulting in an erosion of public services. She says she felt a great sense of unity during Thursday’s strike, and not just among teachers. As for the contract: “The money is OK. For me, I worry more about class sizes and the adult education program.”
Tom Reinhardt, from Oakland High (two years in OUSD), said he supports the union. He also said “there’s a lot of fear” about how a strike will affect the community — and how it will be perceived during an economic recession when so many are out of work. “It doesn’t look really great for the teachers to be out here asking for more money,” he said.
Connie Branson, a veteran teacher from Lincoln Elementary School, has lived through “every strike since 1985.” She said she’s not so worried about her own paycheck — she’s close to retirement — but about “our young teachers” and the importance of keeping them in the district. She’s also concerned about the district’s enormous debt, which she considers — in part — to be a legacy of state administration. “I have a great deal of respect and admiration for Tony Smith, and I am concerned about what happened before he came,” she said.
Manuel Herrera, a third-year teacher at Learning Without Limits, a small elementary school in East Oakland, reflected on the unity he experienced at his school at last Thursday’s strike. “It was a powerful day for me,” he said. He added, “One day was powerful; many days could go either way. … I support the union, and I support my teachers, but I want to make sure we make the best decision for our kids, and at this point I don’t know what that is. … It’s a struggle, and it’s really pulling me away from the classroom.
Malana Willis, another third-year teacher at Learning Without Limits, said she was also unsure of the best way forward. Districts throughout California are struggling with declining state revenues, she said. “I would like to see all of the teachers in the state really rally around that. … It’s pulling from nothing. The district doesn’t have a lot of money to begin with. … I just want to do what’s most effective.”
Do you think an indefinite strike will come to pass? Would you support it? For those who were around (as teachers, students or community members) the 1996 strike: What was it like? What did you learn from that experience?