The 3,000 united members of Oakland Education Association (OEA) are ready to go on strike for their students tomorrow morning if no agreement is reached by the end of today.
Negotiations have been ongoing over the past week after many months of foot dragging and stonewalling by Oakland Unified School District management that constituted an unfair labor practice. Even after district management began showing up to bargaining meetings, they were woefully unprepared, made non-serious offers and lacked the authority to make decisions on behalf of the district.
“This should have been settled long ago,” said special education teacher and OEA Interim President Ismael Armendariz. “Some people think the district saves money by stonewalling. Not only is this an unfair labor practice and illegal, delaying bargaining is costly to the district and its students. Many Oakland teachers have given notice that they’re leaving; new teachers have better options to teach elsewhere. And, perhaps the greatest cost is to our students who are being denied smaller class sizes, access to guidance counselors, mental health supports and other improved services that our team is bargaining for.”
OEA has made it clear that educators do not want to go on strike, but district management’s continued lack of respect and apparent lack of desire to negotiate in good faith has created the continuing situation.
Oakland’s teachers are the lowest paid in the Bay Area and have not had a new contract since prior to the pandemic. Meanwhile, rising inflation and a steep rise in the cost of renting an apartment in the fast-gentrifying city is making it impossible for educators – especially new teachers at the bottom of the salary scale making $52,905 per year – to afford rent. The average cost for a house is $910,000 in Oakland and the average monthly rent is $2,813. Currently, 20 percent of the OUSD teaching staff has announced that they won’t return for the next school year and the number of vacancies is expected to significantly increase.
OEA is insistent that the district pay teachers a livable wage, provide improved services for students with disabilities, additional mental health supports for students still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, and invest in Historically Black Community Schools. Other issues at the bargaining table relate to special education needs, class size, safety issues and equitable treatment for schools in low-income areas, along with additional support for students in those schools.