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STRIKE! Oakland teachers shut down school system for one day April 29, despite scab substitute teachers who were paid $300 per day

Teachers in Oakland, California, organized by the Oakland Education Association, shut down the city's schools on April 29, despite the fact that the Oakland school board insisted the schools were "open" after advertising widely for scab "substitute teachers" who were paid $300 per day. One of the reasons why the schools did not have many students on April 29, despite announcements from the school board that schools were "open," is that Oakland teachers had worked to ensure that parents and students were involved in supporting their strike.

By far, one of the most interesting bits of reporting on the one-day strike we've seen so far has come from Socialist Worker, which follows:

http://socialistworker.org/2010/04/30/lesson-from-the-oakland-picket-line

A lesson on the picket line in Oakland (April 30, 2010)

Teachers in the Oakland Education Association (OEA) took part in a one-day strike April 29 to protest cuts in the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) that are wrecking kids' education and teachers' living and working conditions.

The action comes after two years of negotiation with the district. On April 21, the school board to voted actually impose their "last, best and final" offer on teachers. Such an imposition is all but unprecedented, and, as California Teachers Association staffer Ward Rountree said, it's a declaration of war. Teachers are now working under the terms of a contract they rejected months ago.

John Green reports from the front lines of the strike.

Teachers in the Oakland Educators Association on strike (Alessandro Tinonga | SW)

5:55 a.m.: Teachers at Oakland High School get a jump on the official 6 a.m. start time, giving interviews and shooing away support staff, construction workers and would-be scabs.

It's dark, cold and windy, but spirits are high on the picket line. Four news vans are keeping everyone busy even though school doesn't start for another two hours.

Most students enter campus through the rear gate, which abuts a neighborhood, so when I drive by there's a glob of picketers impossible to miss on the small cul-de-sac that leads to the entrance.

At the same time, my friend Dana texts me to say that she's at Oakland Technical High School with a half dozen teachers from Berkeley who've shown up to support the teachers there.

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7:00 a.m.: Over at the Oakland Unified School District administration building, a small but determined group of picketers are working especially hard to turn away would-be scabs. OUSD is paying $300 a day for substitute teachers and a few late hires are showing up to get their assignments.

The picketers manage to turn one or two away while I'm here.

Many of the picketers here are from the Union of Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE) at the University of California (UC)-Berkeley. As Alex tells me, "Teachers always support us, so we're supporting them". He sees a direct parallel in Oakland to his union's fight to save jobs and 'chop from the top' of the administrator-heavy UC system.

Each year, OUSD actually pays a penalty to the state government for having so many administrators. State Education Code requires 55 percent of a school district's budget to be spent on classroom instruction. Oakland passes on a paltry 44 percent. Priorities?

On a sour note, school officer Pete Sarna threatened to arrest picketers for impeding access to the district parking lot. Most of the time he just stayed inside his $35,000 muscle car, scowling.

Why does a school resource officer need a muscle car? For all of the high-speed chases on the...blacktop?

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8:05 a.m.: Next up is Franklin Elementary. With more than 700 students, Franklin is Oakland's largest elementary school. (Franklin's high test scores have saved it from being broken up into smaller charter schools.)

I don't realize that I've driven to the back gate, and just a few minutes after the last wave of scabs at that. At first, they're ready to pounce on me.

Thankfully, the teachers here are actually quite friendly. Our conversations are interrupted by greeting each new parent who arrives (and who often turn right around and leave without any further prompting).

Over on the front gate, there's a huge spread of food set up. Teachers are laughing and joking around. They're feeling good because fewer than 150 students have shown up to school.

The district managed to provide all of three subs to the site.

I speak at length with a friendly teacher named Ron. He's not a union official or even a picket captain, but he articulately explains to me why he's striking and points out how Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) could meet their demands to raise their salary-- Oakland teachers are the poorest paid in the county. Ron laughs and says he would have considered voting in favor of the neutral fact-finder's recommendation to give teachers a modest raise in 2012, even though he's going to be retired by then. But the district shut the door on that report and imposed its own contract.

Driving away from Franklin, I'm thinking a lot about the Oakland Tribune editorial slamming the teachers' requests and the snotty headline on the OUSD Web site this morning about "union officials" orchestrating a strike. The implied message is that teachers like Ron are dupes.

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9:55 a.m.: I haven't been to many Oakland schools since a summer job in college, so Horace Mann Elementary across town seems like as good a target as any. Driving through the Fruitvale neighborhood, I can't help but see the amazing picket outside of the Urban Promise Academy. (An ironic name given how little OUSD spends on student achievement.)

The picket line looks like its out of a Hollywood movie--there's not an inch of daylight between the teachers, parents and students surrounding their small school. Everyone is wearing the bright green T-shirts of the Oakland Education Association (OEA) and it seems like there's a noisemaker attached to every bouncing picket sign.

I can't imagine a scab crossing through that.

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10:05 a.m.: There's the discouraging sound of kids playing when I pull up to the Global Family/Learning Without Limits Academy. But there are only eight kids playing in the school yard... The sound is really just coming from the dozens of families supporting their teachers out front.

The kids are playing hopscotch. The weather's warmed up, so I walk around the building and see OEA signs up all over.

Spying through the window, I can see about eight kids in a classroom. They didn't even bother taking down the other chairs in the room. The children's handmade signs are all over, too. One sign says "No Rats, We Love Our Teachers" with an awesome drawing of a rat's pointy head. Ouch.

Driving away, the eight kids in the courtyard are still there a half hour later enjoying the world's-longest recess.

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10:30 a.m.: Students and teachers have taken over both sides of the street outside of Fremont High School. The students start yelling that I'm not honking enough. To make them happy, I pull a U-turn at the next street and go by honking again.

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10:40 a.m.: Driving down Foothill Boulevard, all of a sudden there's a posse of a dozen people pushing strollers and carrying strike signs. Cars are honking at them. (I learn later that they're a group of Adult Education instructors and their family members. OUSD is completely dismantling Adult Education, which is a critical pathway for adults to get GEDs.)

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10:45 a.m.: After finally arriving at Horace Mann, there are a dozen teachers in extraordinarily good spirits. They skirmished with a district delivery truck just before my arrival and then give the driver a pretty good send-off a few minutes later when he leaves. What has to be delivered to an empty school?

Fewer than a third of the students attended today.

A teacher, whose name I missed, wants to talk about next steps and the New Jersey walkouts. If only the Oakland Tribune could meet her, she could tell them about the $80 million that OUSD spends on outside consultants each year or the $10 million spent on district-level assessments that even No Child Left Behind doesn't require.

From here, it's nearly time for the big lunchtime unity rally at Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland.

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Noon: The Plaza is a large outdoor amphitheatre and it's filling with hundreds and hundreds of teachers, counselors and nurses from across the district. Students and families are here, too, alongside representatives from the Service Employees International Union, International Longshore and Warehouse Union and other unions.

Signs like "Lowest-Paid Teacher, Highest-Paid Administrator" call out Oakland Superintendent Tony Smith's $300,000 a year compensation.

After a little warm-up by the "Big O" teachers' band and a quick march to the State Building, OEA President Betty Olson-Jones takes the stage to announce 100 percent strike participation at 36 sites (nearly half in the district). "We shut the district down!" she says, to a deafening roar.

OEA Secretary Steve Neat teaches at one of those schools with full participation, Kaiser Elementary. In fact, not a single student crossed the line there, either.

"We did a lot of outreach [at Kaiser]," says Neat. "We handed out flyers, built relationships with parents, let them know what's happening and they understood we're all in this together."

Oakland High School student Jimmy Tran echoes that solidarity.

"The cuts are not right," he says. "We're the next generation, but they're taking our teachers away from us, discouraging our teachers by not paying them well."

He's at the rally with a friend to send a message to the superintendent. Before I lose him in the crowd, I see him grabbing more literature from the union explaining alternatives to cutting programs or freezing wages any longer.

Twenty-eight hundred educators on strike produce far too many stories and anecdotes to fit into a report, let alone actually experience as an eyewitness. I'm dehydrated and my feet hurt, but I'm incredibly proud to see teachers standing up for themselves and for the goal of quality public education.

The Oakland teachers have a mass membership meeting set for Monday, May 3, to figure out next steps. There couldn't possibly be a better catalyst for change than shutting down the entire school district for the day.

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MORE FROM SUBSTANCE EDITORS...

Oakland parent Kristen Miller-Nicholas (center) joined a press conference at the headquarters of the Oakland Education Association with her two daughters to state her support for the teachers' strike. The majority of parents kept their children home from Oakland schools on April 29, thanks in part to organizing and canvassing by teachers the previous weekend. On the left above is etty Olson-Jones, President of the Oakland Education Association. Photo by Oakland Education Association.The careful preparation for the strike included involving parents in strike support and working with other unions. The following was posted at the OEA website the day before the strike:

OAKLAND STRIKE PREPARATIONS. APRIL 27, 2010.

In response to the many inquiries we’ve been receiving from OEA members, here is a statement from OEA on our upcoming strike and our union brothers and sisters in OUSD. OEA has received strike sanction from the Alameda Central Labor Council for our one-day strike on April 29th. It is OEA’s position that a strike is a strike, and we encourage every union member NOT to cross our picket lines. An injury to one is an injury to all! However, OUSD’s labor agreements with its school worker unions contain “no-strike” clauses which make it illegal for the other OUSD unions to organize their members to engage in secondary ("sympathy") strikes in support of the OEA strike. In other words, despite the Central Labor Council’s strike sanction, the leaders of the other OUSD unions cannot legally tell their members to honor our lines — to do so would be considered organizing a sympathy strike.

However, members of the other unions CAN be reminded by their union leaders that they should not do anything that would endanger their health and safety. Although OEA’s pickets will not forcibly prevent workers from crossing, many workers will no doubt feel high levels of discomfort which can certainly be damaging to one’s health. We are sure the leaders of the other school workers unions are reminding their members of this. The stronger our strike and the larger our picket lines, the more reason there will be for other school workers and other employees to turn back and not cross.

In summary, it is important for us to set our expectations correctly. The other school workers union leaders CANNOT legally call on their members to honor our picket lines. And, unlike OEA members, the members of the other school worker unions cannot strike legally on April 29.

On April 29, encourage other OUSD employees to honor our picket lines. If they have questions, they should call their union representatives/offices.

AFSCME (custodians, food service workers, Aides to the handicapped)

SEIU (clerical workers, school safety officers)

BTC (building and grounds workers)

On Friday, April 16, days after OEA sent a letter requesting to resume bargaining based on the newly-released fact-finding report, the District informed us that they do not intend to return to the table to bargain, and that they want us to accept their last, best, final offer! As you recall, that contained nothing — no compensation, the promise of increased class sizes, no minimum number of Adult Ed employees, etc.This is unacceptable!

As voted at Rep Council on Monday, April 12, the one-day strike set for April 22 was postponed until April 29 to insure that we are "strike legal," allow us time to study the fact-finding report (received April 14), and to go back to the bargaining table in an attempt to reach a fair settlement of our long-standing contract dispute. Remember: the fact-finding report is non-binding and advisory, and any favorable recommendations contained in the report would have to be bargained in order to be part of a tentative agreement. But it appears the District is unwilling to pursue a fair settlement, giving us no choice but to strike.

Download the following reports/letters/flyers and get them to your colleagues:

Fact-finding report

Letter to be distributed to parents and community members about why we are striking April 29th. Spanish translation; Chinese translation. Vietnamese translations available at OEA.

Strike flyer to distribute to parents and the community highlighting our demands for a fair contract! Spanish translation; Chinese translation.

ORGANIZE, ORGANIZE, ORGANIZE!!!

FOLLOWING ARE VARIOUS PRESS REPORTS:

Oakland teachers walk out for the day, Jill Tucker,Justin Berton, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writers, Friday, April 30, 2010

The Oakland Unified School District's 100-plus schools remained open, and emergency substitutes and about 70 central office workers were brought into the classrooms to teach students who showed up.

But the union's plea to parents to keep their children home paid off, said officials of the Oakland Education Association, the teachers union. At least two schools, Kaiser Elementary and Hillcrest Elementary, had no students in attendance, according to the teachers union. District administrators did not have attendance numbers as of this afternoon.

"We have shut the district down today," Betty Olson-Jones, president of the union said at a noontime rally at Oakland City Hall. "It may be disruptive for one day, but it is a day of reckoning."

The rally was attended by hundreds of teachers, parents, students and other supporters, who then marched to the state building. They were expected to return to picket lines at the schools this afternoon.

Early this morning, about 15 teachers with picket signs stood in front of Sankofa Academy on 61st Street in North Oakland, eliciting honks from motorists on Shattuck Avenue. The teachers arrived at 5:30 a.m. and blocked a delivery truck carrying food for lunch, said Barbara Kass, a resource teacher at the school.

Oakland teachers rally at Oakland's City Hall at noon on April 29, 2010.Principal Monique Brinson ended up rolling pallets of food into the cafeteria and helped escort children into the school. She declined to comment on how many substitutes were at the school.

Zina Green brought her daughter, Miracle, to the school this morning. The family recently moved to Oakland from Sacramento, and Green fretted over the fact that her daughter had already missed a number of school days as a result.

"She's already missed a lot of school as it is," Green said. "I do hope the teachers are successful in the strike. I just don't want to get myself in trouble."

At Edna Brewer Middle School on 13th Avenue in the Glenview neighborhood, all 40 teachers were on the picket line, chanting, "Scabs go home," and pounding drums and cowbells.

One substitute teacher pushed through the line of striking teachers to get to campus.

Of the school's 700 students, about 40 came to class, said special education teacher Mark Airgood.

Jill Schiager, a school district representative on scene, said she couldn't confirm how many students were at school, but said, "The teachers have been very respectful of the students who want to come to school."

Blanca Gonzalez, with her two children in tow, joined teachers on the picket line. "Supporting my kids' teachers is supporting my kids' education," she said.

At the Lockwood campus, which serves as home to two elementary and two middle schools, more than 100 teachers and supporters protested along International Boulevard.

A delivery truck driver refused to cross the line at the East Oakland campus, but two teachers with cultural exchange visas did, fearing their visas could be revoked if they stayed away, protesters said.

"Teachers have crossed at every school in the district," said Brad Stam, chief academic officer for the district. "The students are not losing as much learning time as we feared."

Union officials disputed Stam's claim, saying that 36 school sites had 100 percent teacher participation in the strike.

Student attendance appeared to be sparse.

Only about 30 of 300 students showed up at Castlemont Business and Information Technology (high) School in East Oakland, said Michael Case, a school administrator.

"It's like a snow day," said Case, who noted that the normally loud hallways were calm and quiet. "Some made it in and some didn't. It's understandable. The work goes on."

By mid-morning, district officials reported few problems at schools.

"There's been a little bit of obstruction, but no conflicts," said district spokesman Troy Flint. "For a bad situation, it's turning out as well as we hoped."

Some schools reported up to 25 percent of students present for the day while other saw just a handful of children in class.

Superintendent Tony Smith said he was confident schools were prepared to spend the day educating Oakland's students. "We have staffed and prepared the schools to take care of our children," he said.

Smith said he doesn't disagree with the teachers, acknowledging they need raises. "I am not angry," he said of the strike. "We continue to recognize teachers deserve better compensation."

The district needs to reorganize from top to bottom — something that will take time, he said. "But the structural deficit has to be a top priority," he said.

Some of the 2,800 members of the Oakland Education Association who took part in the April 29, 2010, strike.The Oakland Board of Education approved an interim contract April 21 that included no raises for teachers so the district could begin making decisions about how to cut $85 million from the budget - about a quarter of the district's spending plan.

The two sides have been at impasse since June and worked with a mediator until December. Still, neither the district nor the 2,700 teachers in the union have given up hope of reaching an accord.

Late Tuesday, Smith requested a meeting with the union to restart bargaining, a move that took teachers by surprise.

The two sides have struggled to come to terms over wages, class size, case loads for school nurses and counselors, and staffing for adult education.

This is the first teachers strike since a 23-day walkout in 1996.

OAKLAND'S ABC NEWS (KGO TV) HAS A COMPREHENSIVE REPORT, WITH A NUMBER OF INTERVIEWS WITH STRIKING TEACHERS. One thing ABC reported was that the principal and assistant principals at one school had been forced to work by the Oakland district, so they donated their pay for the day to the teachers. The ABC print report follows:

Oakland teachers have one-day strike. Reported by Lyanne Melendez OAKLAND, CA (KGO) -- Oakland teachers are calling their one day strike a huge success. They walked out, demanding better wages and smaller classes.

The district says it does plan to return to the bargaining table, but, the 85 million dollar deficit is still the harsh reality.

At noon, teachers left their schools to march around Oakland City Hall. Teachers are calling for a better contract; one that guarantees, among other things, smaller classrooms. They want to keep the average 22 students-to-one teacher ratio in the lower grades.

"It's really all about the increasing class sizes that they are proposing, because 30 kids in a class means we have less time to work one-on-one with each child and they need help," teacher Maggie Taylor said.

Thursday's strike was also about not cutting adult education and increasing a teacher's wages. They are the lowest paid in Alameda County.

But the school district maintains the cuts are necessary.

"There's no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, there's no money under the sofa cushions," district spokesperson Troy Flint said. "We cut $40 million in the past two years. We have to reduce our general fund by another $85 million by July 1 when the 2010-11 fiscal year begins."

Teachers were on the picket line at 5:30 a.m. Many parents did not send their kids to school and the union says 91 percent of teachers participated in the strike.

Teachers acknowledge it is still a tough economy and that state funding has declined drastically, affecting the classrooms.

"We have class sizes of 30-35 kids right now, and we're paying for supplies out of our own pockets," teacher Amy Dellefield said.

Oakland Unified says it has already cut in-house, laying off 105 administration staff last year.

The union believes there is enough existing money to increase teachers' pay, if the district prioritizes them and stops spending millions on outside consultants and administrators.

Teachers have been without a contract since June 2008. Last week, the school board voted to impose the district's so-called "last and final offer," without a raise, after both sides had stopped talking. But now the district has asked to come back to the table sometime next week.

"I had a feeling that this one day would be something that, may not go down in the history books as pushing toward a great settlement, then again it might, but what it shows is that teachers are here in solidarity with each other," Betty Olson-Jones of the Oakland Education Association said.



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