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It’s a strike vote. So why aren’t teachers voting?

The vast majority of those who participated in tonight’s union election authorized a strike. But most Oakland teachers didn’t vote at all.

The turnout was less than half of what it was in May, the first time this year OEA members authorized a strike. (This vote was to affirm the last one.) Only 341 union members cast ballots tonight, compared to 755 in May.

That’s well under 15 percent of the union’s membership.

Even among those who did come to the membership meeting, said union President Betty Olson-Jones, “The sentiment for a strike at this time is very, very weak.”

There must be a reason so few teachers turned out tonight, besides hectic schedules. Are they voting by not voting?

Olson-Jones said she was disappointed in the showing. She thinks it might have something to do with a “digital divide,” or generation gap. “A lot of our younger teachers — they just don’t do meetings,” she said.

Do you agree? If not, what else could it mean that more than 85 percent of union members didn’t participate an election that could so directly affect them?

Katy Murphy

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

  • Tara Wolf

    There are several reasons I declined to vote;
    I did not find out about the meeting until the day before.
    There was little information released to teachers or our union rep about the issue we were considering.
    I was told I would not be able to vote until 5:30, after already working since 6:30.
    I have lost faith in the union’s negotiating ability.

  • http://www.skylinehs.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=77763&type=u&rn=6808095 David Orphal

    Why aren’t teachers voting? Without asking, we cannot say with any certainty.

    We may speculate all kinds of reasons and far too many folk will assume non-voter intent based on their own views about teacher wages, our depressed economy, hectic schedules, a digital divide, etc…

    If I don’t support OEA struggle for hire teacher salaries, then I am likely to assume that the low turnout reflects feelings among most Oakland teachers that their paychecks are still large enough.

    If I believe that it would be politically unpopular to ask for a raise while nearly 10% of Oakland residents are out of work might point to this to explain the turnout.

    If I believe that the majority of Oakland teachers do want their association to fight for higher pay, then there is a host of alternate reasons to explain last night’s vote: busy schedules; tired, overworked teachers, a sense that even a protracted strike wont win concessions from the District, etc..

    The bottom line remains, we don’t know. Perhaps OEA or OUSD could find these answers. We could ask teachers about their views in a more convenient way.

    What we do know for sure: for probably many diverse reasons, most Oakland teachers avoided the vote, and this is problematic for OEA moving forward in negotiations. OEA is very-much in the dark as to how many teachers will hold the line is a prolonged strike is called and the Union is going to have to find this out before they move forward in negotiations.

  • Oakland Teacher

    The low turnout is very disappointing. I have no tolerance for people who are apathetic or can’t be bothered. Excuses are just that. Serious illness is the only reason to not come.

    Betty (as usual) was pretty diplomatic. I am disgusted that so few people showed. There were entire schools with no one there. If people don’t want to strike, they need to come and say so. Otherwise, we need to get behind our bargaining team.

    While mention has been made of an “age gap”, I want to say that my school has many veteran teachers, and not one of them was there.

  • Turanga_teach

    One very small piece of the puzzle: Oakland historically has an issue with teacher attrition, which it has worked to fill with teaching interns–who take classes at night in order to keep their credentials. Tuesday night is one of the main class nights.

    It’s an admittedly small sample, but every new teacher I spoke to yesterday missed the meeting because they had to be in class.

  • Oakland Teacher

    Most of those night classes do not begin until 7 pm, but even so, does not explain all the veteran teachers who were not there. They are definitely not taking classes. Every one of us who was there last night could have come up with a compelling reason why we couldn’t come. We all have full lives with many commitments! I am going to have a hard time talking to all the teachers today who couldn’t be bothered yesterday.

  • teacher.

    False. The night classes begin at 5.

    The lack of turnout could also be an indication of the large disconnect between our union leadership and its constituents, technology or otherwise. The union has done a horrible job of disseminating and updating information. As a result people feel disconnected and disempowered by the very people who are supposed to be supporting them.

    Side note. Plot where the union has their meetings on a map. Compare it to where most teachers are working. Then identify the location of the home school of the union leadership. You’ll see some stark patterns – the hills and big high schools dominate.

  • TheTruthHurts

    Once again, common sense seems uncommon. Voter apathy has been studied the world over and we act like there is no basis for speculation. Whatever!

    I’ve heard (totally rumor) that many don’t want to face the pressure tactics, charges of disloyalty, etc. that come from an opposing voice. That “minds in power” are made up and “what’s the point.” I don’t agree with that kind of thinking and believe OEA operates as a democracy (with all the coercion that democracies include).

    I can imagine that when the people holding the meeting have already expressed their view and when the previous strike led to reprisals against dissenters, it’s only natural to not want the headache. Not great for democracy or Oakland, but understandable.

    Tea partiers notwithstanding, voter apathy is not confined to OEA. In general, many people don’t believe in their leadership and I can’t say I blame them.

  • Gordon Danning

    TheTruthHurts:

    I dont think that pressure from colleagues is the issue, because teachers did not have to attend the meeting in order to vote; they could just walk into the lobby, vote, and leave. That’s what I did.

    Personally, I blame poor publicity, or a sense that the outcome was inevitable. I know that the meeting was NOT a topic of conversation at my site.

  • Cranky Teacher

    Publicity was very low for this vote, that’s the truth, but that in itself is a sign of “apathy,” since most of this communication has to be carried by individuals and site reps.

    I didn’t vote because I was still at my site working with students facing a big deadline until 8:30 last night. I would have ditched them (and my own kids at home) for the meeting except that:

    We already voted a few months ago to authorize a strike if the leadership decides. I didn’t think this vote was necessary, although I can see why they decided to hold it. I also didn’t think it was going to be close, but I trusted those who showed to express the will of the union.

    I can also see the handwriting on the wall: The district is made up primarily of a) idealistic young teachers who have not decided if this is their career and who aren’t thinking too much of practical longterm financials (and, anecdotally, seem unmoved by what they consider Depression-era, or ’60s style “movement” politics), and b) veterans approaching retirement who are financially stable but concerned about how a strike would affect their pension and ability to pay a mortgage and/or commitments to help children/grandchildren.

    In any case, this issue goes way beyond OEA — the question is what our society is willing to pay to educate poor and lower-middle-class children. The answer right now is, not much and less each day. It would be nice if Oakland teachers could be a force for challenging this complacency, but it is clear they have us pretty well divided, demoralized and fatalistic. We will apparently trail society’s decisions rather than pushing them.

    Today, driving to work, I thought I’d better start making plans to leave this profession in 3-5 years so I can be in a position to help my children attend college in the years following. There is no way my OUSD salary in ten years is going to allow me to both live in the East Bay and help pay for tuition and a dorm room! Marketing/p.r. here I come! Maybe I can write those smug little radio ads for the Kaiser Permanente woman…

    In general, though, I am so tired of people in this space talking about the union like it is a national office somewhere staffed by an army of bureaucrats making decisions for us. The OEA is a tiny, quasi-volunteer-run office run by less than a handful of working teachers and ex-teachers without the services of fancy consultants, top-line equipment or extensive training in union work.

    Spend a few afternoons volunteering for the union and you’d probably be nearly as influential as Betty. Sure, union folks can be quirky or intense (see: Ben V.) but that’s why they’re willing to do all that drudgery you don’t want to do, for free!

    It is a cliche but it is true: Teachers, YOU are the union. If it is to be pushed in any direction, it is up to you to find the time and energy to do so. If not, though, just please stop b*******.

    Honestly, if I hear one more veteran tell me they can’t do a one-day strike because it will mean they lose a year of their service time toward a pension (not true) or from a young teacher that our students can’t afford to miss a day of school (are you kidding?), I will scream.

    As the kids say, don’t get it twisted: Striking SUCKS and should be our last resort. But come on, are we really so short-sighted that we think the underlying issue — WE ARE WOEFULLY UNDERPAID BY ANY MEASURE AND IT AFFECTS RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION OF QUALITY TEACHERS — is going to be solved the next time the stock market or the unemployment index upticks? Has the board or superintendent given us the slightest hint in OVER A DECADE that they are lifting a finger to change the status quo in pushing only an illegally low 45% of district monies into the classroom?

    Ok, rant over, lol

  • JR

    Cranky,
    The major funding problem is as you have stated, and I have posted numerous times, not enough of the money goes to the classrooms(it feeds the bureaucratic beast). There are other problems as well here are some things to look at:

    http://blogs.investors.com/capitalhill/index.php/home/35-politicsinvesting/1911-california-school-spending-soared-on-administrators

    http://www.eastbayexpress.com/92510/archives/2010/03/04/some-hard-truths-about-oakland-teachers

    http://www.rand.org/news/press.05/01.03.html

  • http://www.tigerthegecko.blogspot.com maestra

    In my 8 years in OUSD (thankfully, not there anymore), each time there was an “important” meeting, I found out the day before. That can make it just logistically impossible to get there. Not a sign of not caring. A sign of poor planning.

  • TheTruthHurts

    Once again, I shockingly agree with Cranky, “the question is what our society is willing to pay to educate poor and lower-middle-class children. The answer right now is, not much and less each day.”

    I agree this nation and particularly this state have answered this question for decades. It’s not the answer I want, but it’s been answered. If we want to change that answer, there will need to be less bickering among the disenfranchised. Divide, confuse and conquer has been an effective strategy.

    At some point Oakland goes past progressive and just appears “out of touch.” That might win cheers in SF and Berkeley, but is it getting anything done.

  • T

    “the question is what our society is willing to pay to educate poor and lower-middle-class children. The answer right now is, not much and less each day.”

    In Waiting for Superman, the narrator describes how the DC teacher’s union didn’t allow a measure to go to vote that would have either allowed teachers to choose individually to work for performance bonuses or just keep the status quo and get a raise.

    In Oakland, the OEA didn’t endorse Measure L, which then failed to pass by fewer than 800 votes. Seems to me that it’s not just “society” that doesn’t want teachers to be paid more, but the unions themselves who think it’d be better for teachers as a whole to be paid less and have more protection than be paid more in return for greater accountability.

  • JR

    “it’s not just “society” that doesn’t want teachers to be paid more, but the unions themselves who think it’d be better for teachers as a whole to be paid less and have more protection than be paid more in return for greater accountability”.

    This is an excerpt from an article about education issues:

    Fourth. Oakland teachers make less on average than other districts, but other districts don’t have to give the state $6 million a year to pay back a $100 million bailout loan. It also should be noted that there’s ample evidence that Oakland schools got into trouble in the first place and needed the loan because the district badly miscalculated when it awarded teachers a 24 percent raise at the beginning of the last decade.

    Fifth. Teachers in other districts have made trade-offs for higher pay. Chief of among them is accepting more students per class. As a result, those districts have fewer public school teachers per capita than Oakland does. A state audit several years ago found that districts typically either choose to have fewer well-paid teachers or more lower-paid teachers. Oakland has chosen the latter, and there’s strong evidence that Oakland simply has too many teachers, because its class sizes are smaller than what the district can afford.

    The entire article is here:

    http://www.eastbayexpress.com/92510/archives/2010/03/04/some-hard-truths-about-oakland-teachers

  • livegreen

    Although I agree with Cranky here, the cuts per se have been at the State level & there’s no way OUSD can make up for the State.

    Furthermore I just wish for 1x the OEA, OUSD, etc. could organize some actions (family friendly) marches that happen BEFORE the State cuts happen so we can all do something about it. Teachers, families, AND kids.

    Finally, I voted for Measure L, and although I agree with the OEA in principle that Charters should not benefit, at some point there has to be compromise for the greater good. Maybe the OEA is run by malcontents who so love to complain, strike and want to hold on to an “all or nothing” “us vs. them” attitudes that compromise is simply impossible for them?

    Or maybe OEA leaders would have nothing to do if they actually got the raises they want?

  • harlemmoon04

    A strike? Really?
    One would hope that one good reason so few turned out was because rational, more thoughtful options could prevail.
    Then again….

  • Confused

    I’m confused. We were fighting last year for preventing cuts to CDC, SPED and for a more livable wage. I read the proposed contract and it included a 3% raise and the cuts.
    What has come out of us rejecting this contract? The cuts were still made, but we didn’t get the 3% raise. That is the reality of what our bargaining team did. So what was accomplished? The Fact Finding report was disregarded by both sides and it was simply a gross waste of time and resources.
    It seems to me like some are being more strike happy than logical. Necessary steps have NOT been taken “action up to and leading to a strike”. Where is the action up to part? It seems like the options are strike or do nothing…. Why aren’t we talking about other actions first!

  • oakie

    Strike vote? Not so important. Parent’s vote—with their feet. Go on strike and it will erode the student population you have the next year. And therefore fewer teachers employed by this dysfunctional district.

    And that will be justice earned.

  • Oakland USD teacher

    I voted against the strike. It was really hard to get there, but I made it 15 minutes before closing. OEA’s hubris in making it so difficult to vote shows what a small, closed group it is.

    There is a big disconnect between OEA and many teachers. As a second-career teacher, I am put off by the antagonism and radicalism of OEA officials. Many of the loudest union members are embarrassing. They come off as overgrown hippies and I think they have little credibility with the district. The teamster model does not work for me. I am an educated professional and I don’t identify with many of the union tactics.

  • Steven Weinberg

    It looks like OEA is trying new ways to reach out to the membership. I received this in an email today: “Thanks to the over 250 members who have already responded to our survey about the November 16 membership meeting. Your responses are valuable and insightful, and will help guide our actions moving forward. The last date for taking the survey is December 5, so be sure to do it if you haven’t already. Tell colleagues who haven’t received an invitation to take the survey to write OEA at oaklandea@oaklandea.com so they will be added to our database.” I thought I would post it as teachers have complained here about being out of the loop.