OEA’s new online presence, and a key union vote on Tuesday

Guess what, Oakland teachers? If you haven’t noticed, your union’s website has been rescued from the 20th Century and resuscitated by Oakland High School math teacher Rori Abernethy (who has an impressive blog of her own in which she recently showcased her student’s work).

OEA members on April 29. Tribune staff photo by D. Ross CameronThe new OEA site is loaded with information about what your organization does, what your contract says, who your leaders are, how to reach them and how to get involved. It has a layoff survival guide and a pledge card for parents.

And, of course, a “Hot for Teachers” YouTube video.

If you visited the site’s Google calendar you would know — even if you haven’t heard it from your site rep — that there’s  an important meeting from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Oakland Tech where you will receive a bargaining update and vote on whether to affirm the strike authorization vote taken in May.

How will you vote? Do you feel any differently about the direction the union should take than you did in May?

Katy Murphy

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

  • TheTruthHurts

    Someone asked earlier whether folks have to go to the 4-7 meeting to vote. Seems sorta arbitrary for a group of that size. Can they “mail-it-in?”

    Seems sorta crazy to be striking in these times anyway, but hey, this is the Bay Area. What would we be without misguided activism?

    I just hope if they vote to strike they do so with more than 50% of the group voting. Too often a small, passionate few drive the apathetic masses into the ditch (e.g. tea party).

  • Ms. J.

    I hesitate to write in because I don’t want to be perceived as ‘weakening the union’s position,’ but upon reflection I am hoping that some waverers might actually think about these points and vote in a way which I think is less destructive.

    I have raised the issue of voting with the union before. When we vote for officers we have a week, at our school sites, during which to do so. With this vote, which will effect us all more immediately and directly, I think we should have the same option. It strikes me as wrong that it’s easier to vote in a national election than in a union decision, especially when our dues continue to rise.

    Cynically, I don’t agree that it’s ‘arbitrary’ and certainly not accidental that the vote will be held only among those who are able to attend the meeting.
    I also dispute the characterization of members who don’t attend the meeting or decide the vote as ‘apathetic.’ I am not at all apathetic, but like many other teachers I have other commitments after school which make attending this meeting impossible.

    I only hope that the union leadership read this blog and the kinds of comments in the mainstream media which I seem unable to miss; if they do, they must realize that to strike at this time will not win us any support in the community, and will probably turn even more of the public against us.

    I have read and heard from pro-strike people that the issue is not about the current economy but about the fact that we’ve not had a raise in however many years. That may be a salient point, but what everyone else will see is a bunch of OUSD teachers, who are not being laid-off or furloughed or even having their health benefits cut, making demands on a system which is clearly strapped for cash.

    If the contract negotiations focus on maintaining reasonable class sizes and adult education programs, I am more supportive of some union action, but on the whole I think we should adjust our hopes to these grim times.

  • teacher.

    I’ve been a staunch union supporter and have participated in 1 (and 1 fake) strike(s). But as it stands, the union has cost me the over $200 last year from the strike, the potential wage increase from Measure L, and the wage increase we should’ve received in the last negotiation (thanks Visnick, in case anyone forgot. And no, restoring the cut we got from the state doesn’t count as a wage increase).

    Don’t ask me to strike again. You’ve already cost me enough. I’ll be voting no on the authorization.

  • Cranky Teacher

    In defense of voting at a meeting: This is a long union tradition and rests on the idea that all members need to interact, argue, discuss, convince each other IN PERSON into a general consensus about what to do. If you don’t have this process and unite around a common cause — whether that is a strike or settlement — you lose solidarity and won’t be able to maintain any sort of action anyway.

    I would strongly encourage those opposed to a strike to come to the meeting and stand up for your position. If you want to be a “corrective” then you have to step out of your daily flow to do so, and I think that is fine. We should all have to hear each other’s points of view.

    After all, what we are deciding to do will affect us greatly and directly — it is not the same as voting for a mayor.

  • T

    If the OEA strikes for higher wages right after Measure L fails (which would have received the 1,000 votes needed to pass if the OEA had only endorsed the darn thing), it will not look good methinks…

  • Ms. J.

    There are other ways for people to share their opinions. Many of us have commitments of various types which make attending lengthy afternoon meetings impractical or impossible. I understand the rationale you have stated, Cranky, but forgive me if I still maintain that the real reason to hold the vote at this time is to ensure a certain kind of outcome.

    I think voting for mayor is pretty important too, btw and I think it would be untenable to hold mayoral elections for three hours on one day.

  • Another OUSD Teacher

    I cannot attend the Tuesday meeting because I have a tutoring session but, if I could, I would vote against a strike. It will only inconvenience families, harm children, and greatly annoy the general public.

    I feel like OEA has no credibility with the district and therefore they have to resort to a strike threat. Had union officials supported Measure L, and had union officials negotiated better, we would not be in this position.

  • Hills Parent

    I believe the measure prior to the recent Measure L (the one a few years back) to support schools didn’t have OEA support. And it failed. This time OEA had was neutral on Measure L and it still failed. Maybe they should instead be SUPPORTIVE of these educational measures (and not so concerned about the small slice of funds that were to be allocated to charters). That probably would have made the difference when the margin of failure was so slim.

    The time to have pushed these measures through would have been a few years ago when economic times were better and people would have been more willing to support it – especially if OEA supported the measure. As far as I’m concerned, OEA has been their own worst enemy!

    Another gripe of mine about the union is that they support bad teachers as well as good ones. If I would a teacher, I’d want to clear out underperforming, poor teachers as they would be a disgrace to the profession and an insult to all the hardworking and effective educators. Teachers should not hold their positions for life if they are no longer able to teach effectively!

  • oakie

    Excellent. I hope they vote to strike. That’ll put another stake in their coffin. Notice the slimy way to hold a vote and juxtaposed the claim of “solidarity” and other tripe. From my observations, an awful lot of unions behave this way (recall that recent fight between two health care “professional” unions and all the accusations of corruption and cheating, “brother” against “brother”). This is the behavior of teamsters, not teaching professionals.

    Do you think the district will have a pre-strike recruitment drive? If they do, I’ll sign up (do ya think they’ll take someone with multiple master’s degrees and experience teaching at a university level to take on a high school class?), and donate what will probably be a very high daily compensation to my kid’s public school. There’s nothing like being an Oakland resident choosing to send my kid to another district because of the dysfunctional conditions here, and helping to break the strike of one of the causes of the dysfunction. A well deserved piece of humble pie.

  • http://www.eastbayconservative.com The Boss

    Oakie –

    How did you get your kid out of OUSD?

  • Chauncey

    All I have to say is look at the picture on the cover of this story! That sums up the problem in education.

    Fight Tha man!

  • Cranky Teacher

    A lot of folks seem to want unions to . . . not be unions.

    If you hate the idea of unions, that’s fine. But it seems silly not to see that unions exist to protect the rights of workers — who came to believe over the centuries that they needed to band together to increase their bargaining position. Don’t hate on a union for behaving as a union!

    It is not a union’s role to evaluate workers, save the employer money, or endorse candidates or initiatives that weaken its bargaining position — all things folks above have suggested OEA should do.

    Now, I agree that civil servant unions occupy a somewhat strange grey area in that their employer is “the people” and not a for-profit company. Nevertheless, the employer (the government) has enormous power and the union is a check/balance on that power.

    (When I was in the private sector, the companies in my previous field (about 50% unionized) that didn’t want unions took one of two approaches: a) treat the workers so well that they didn’t see the need for a union; b) ruthlessly fight unions and turnover the staff if need be to eliminate organizing or, yes, the development of solidarity.)

    The implication of several of these posts are that unions are for communists, or worse. Chauncey mocks those who would walk on a picket line and Oakie condescendingly offers his professorial talents to scab in our plebian milieu . . . and self-identified OUSD teachers proclaim the union is pulling some sort of Machiavellian election scam by saying they have to vote in person, which means the ludicrous opinions of those who will make the time to go are somehow going to override the more reasoned will of those who are too busy?

    It’s all pretty sad, actually.

  • Ms. J.

    I appreciate your defense of unions–you put it well, I think. I am a supporter of unions. However, I feel compelled to restate my problem with the union vote being held at a restricted time and place. I don’t think anyone is maintaining that “those who are too busy” to go are ‘more reasoned’ than those who “make the time to go” to the vote. My contention is that I should be able to vote in this important decision without having to break an appointment I made months ago for my daughter to visit the dentist and without having to forgo a meeting at her school. Obviously I am trying to say that many people have other aspects of their life which should not have to take precedence–and if the union vote could take place at the school sites there needn’t be a conflict. It doesn’t have to be a Machiavellian scam to be one-sided.

  • Oakland Teacher

    I think if you show up between 5:30 and 6:30, any teacher can cast their vote and leave. It would take about 10 minutes. I understand about prior commitments; I had to make many changes in my plans this afternoon which affected everyone in my family and it wasn’t easy. Fortunately, they all support my being there to vote and were willing to go along with the changes.

    I have reflected a lot on this vote: I am tired of feeling the hate toward unions, toward OEA, and well know the the current problems in the budget and economy. I have decided I am going to vote as a parent, and vote “Yes”. I am tired of seeing education in Oakland undervalued. A huge number of our teachers are working under Intern Credentials. The reason for this is that we don’t pay enough to attract fully credentialed teachers like other districts. I am tired of my own children having teachers who leave as soon as they get into a “real” grad program or find the job of their dreams (guess it wasn’t teaching).

    When Oakland teachers are paid less than every one of their counterparts in neighboring districts, the message is loud and clear about what parts of education we value. In Oakland, we spend far more money on administration and consultants, and far less in the classroom. We have an obligation to change the status-quo.

    Am I happy about the possibility of striking? Of course not; right now my family is experiencing some financial problems and I don’t know how I will do without even a day’s pay. Sometimes we have to make sacrifices in the short-term for long-term solutions.

  • Ms. J.

    Reading thoughtful commentary like yours, Oakland Teacher, and Cranky’s, regarding the reason to consider a strike as an option, as well as other union issues, makes me think it would be good to have such a space on the OEA website. Maybe there is one? I haven’t checked into it in detail, but I appreciate this forum and think that another forum more specifically geared towards teacher debate on this and related issues would be helpful.

  • Starshaped

    I’m another crazy union person. Do I find these meetings fun? No. Are they time consuming? Yes but I choose to listen to all sides and use my voice by voting. But as pointed out, if you don’t want to listen to the dialogue, then you go an vote during the voting time and go home. However, if you don’t vote, you have no room to complain. You effectively are silently compliant with whatever outcome there is.

    Also, the problem with Measure L had very little to do with the fact that some of the money went to charters (however ill concieved charters are). It was an unfair taxation. I, as a Oakland homeowner and teacher who is barely making it month to month, pays the same as Bank of America. The other problem with Measure L was that the makers slipped in the word ‘effective’ in reference to teachers without defining what that word meant in the context of teaching, opening the door to the idea of merit pay. Merit pay may sound great to the average joe but if your kid isn’t pulling his weight in my class, I can’t fire him. See, teaching really doesn’t fit the business model. It shouldn’t take a Kindergarten teacher to tell you a square peg doesn’t fit in a round hole.

  • Ms. J.

    I am reading these responses about the vote, but I don’t think anyone has actually responded to the problem. Yes, it only takes 10 minutes to vote. What about our colleagues who take care of their parents and have no one else to do so? What about people who live in San Francisco and have to be home by a certain time? Of course most (not all) people can rearrange their schedules, for some degree of inconvenience, but why should we have to go to heroic efforts to vote in the union which is supposed to be supporting us and not vice versa?
    I am paying my dues. I come to work every day. I vote in every single political election and I think I should be able to vote at my school site in a decision which affects me and my colleagues. I resent being told that I can’t protest when a vote is being held in a way which clearly makes it difficult for many members to participate.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Ms. J, your protest is fine and acceptable.

    Personally, I am not against site-based votes or even online votes. I was just trying to establish that there was a history to these things and OEA didn’t start it, as was implied by some above. I can see arguments for both sides.

    And while you may not have said it, many have implied that more “active” union members are making policy and running roughshod over the opinions of an alleged “silent majority.” In the spring, some folks on here even said they were scared to go to the meeting to speak or even vote against the strike authorization. The implication was clear: those who went to the meetings were somehow more loony-tunes than those who didn’t. It was with this background that I responded to you.

    Bottom line is we are damned if we do strike, damned if we don’t. The district has not even offered us a face-saving solution. Tough times, tough choice.

    On the bigger picture, I think it is interesting that nobody makes the case that spending MORE on education is a perfectly acceptable response to economic problems because a) it leads to a more competitive workforce in a global environment, b) school employees are debt-ridden, lower-middle class folks who immediately dump that money back into the community as a stimulus, and c) where kids fall through the cracks because of lack of support in school they become huge burdens on the society/state going forward as addicts, criminals, prisoners, teen parents and homeless people.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Oh, and Starshaped, thanks for making the point that Measure L was basically a regressive tax.

    But then, that seems to be the only way we add revenue these days, that and parking tickets!

  • Starshaped

    I believe that the regulations are part of the OEA bylaws. Additionally, I believe that most unions follow this procedure as well.

    We all make choices and we can all make any sort of excuse to justify those choices. I used to live in San Francisco and I STILL went to those meetings. If voting matters to you, then you make time to make it happen. When we have parent conferences or participate in after school activities, we make arrangements to cover any conflicts that may occur.

  • Sue

    Ms. J, #17

    “What about our colleagues who take care of their parents and have no one else to do so? ”

    I would humbly suggest that someone who is taking care of aging parents (or another family member with physical or mental challenges) check with the nearest Regional Center and ask about respite care. All care-givers need breaks to rest and recharge, and Regional Centers will help find alternate care-givers, and depending on income, they’ll reimburse the costs.

    Hope that helps!

  • Turanga_teach

    Um, Regional Centers serve families of individuals with developmental disabilities. Even beyond their current issue of funding cuts and services reductions, I don’t think that’s the white horse that’s gonna save this day.

  • Sue

    Yeah, it ain’t perfect but it’s something worth trying.

    My own experience (parent of a child with autism) was that our family’s income was too high to qualify for most services. But teachers don’t get paid what I do, so I offered the thought.

    Our family has had much more help and support from the Department of Rehabilitation, DOR, and that’s also worth trying I think. Although DOR is all about getting people into jobs and elderly, disabled parents aren’t likely to become employable, so they probably don’t qualify.

    I do have to wonder, though, if one has to care for elderly or disabled family member, and one has no back-up support whatsoever, how does one manage to hold a job, go grocery shopping, etc? It’s puzzling.

  • http://sites.google.com/site/abernethymath/home Rori Abernethy


    This is Rori Abernethy … OEA webmaster and OHS math teacher. I just checked in and saw this post here.

    Thanks Katy for the OEA website plug and thanks to people who commented about their challenges with the OEA meeting and voting process. I will be looking into alternatives using technology.