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Oakland Teachers Strike Continues with Supt. Thurmond at Table

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Oakland’s teachers and supporters hit the picket lines for a third day on Monday.  Around 3,000 Oakland educators went on strike last week, picketing Thursday and Friday outside many of the city’s 86 schools.

No new details on contract negotiations were available Monday evening, with spokespeople for both the Oakland Education Association and Oakland Unified School District reluctant to say much while their respective teams were at the table.

From left: Ismael Armendariz, Oakland Education Association 1st vice president; Chaz Garcia, OEA second vice president; Vilma Serrano, Melrose Leadership Academy teacher; Keith Brown, OEA president; Alex Caputo-Pearl, United Teachers Los Angeles president; Gloria Martinez, UTLA vice president. Teachers strike in Oakland, Calif., February 25, 2019. Photo courtesy of Betty Rose Livingston

Many of the teachers’ strike demands had little to do with usual union beefs like low pay. Rather, several were quick to cite what they saw as schools having been set up to fail due to bulging class sizes and a lack of essential support services to students.

Negotiations suspended briefly midday when the bargaining team for OEA left briefly to join a boisterous rally outside the Elihu M. Harris State office building where the two sides were meeting.

While neither Chaz Garcia, OEA second vice-president, or Jeff Sasaki, district communications director, were able to disclose any specifics, both were hopeful.

“Our teams have been working all day, and we’re very hopeful for a positive resolution,” Sasaki said.

Contract talks came to an abrupt end on Sunday after an hour, but at a 5 p.m. press conference on Monday, Garcia said the sides had agreed to push on through dinner, chalking up their persistence to California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, who had come to oversee proceedings at the behest of the union.

Tony Thurmond, now state superintendent of public education, speaks at Alta Bates rally, Nov. 2017 in Berkeley, Calif. Photo by Betty Rose Livingston

“Clearly, his presence is helping,” Garcia said.

Still, voices at the Frank Ogawa Plaza rally were defiant. Guest speaker Robert Reich, who served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, said he didn’t buy the OUSD line of poor finances.

“What people in power mean when they say, ‘We can’t afford it’ is either ‘We don’t care’ or ‘We don’t feel like working hard enough to find the resources,’” Reich said.

Lisa Bishop, a teacher-librarian in San Francisco Unified who came to support her colleagues, put a fine point on the matter. She said the fact that Oakland only had four teacher-librarians for 84 schools was telling.

“It’s such a shame,” Bishop said, “All around the Bay Area you have teacher-librarians in all the schools, but not in Oakland. Why not? What’s the issue there?”

“I think it’s racial inequality.”

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Nevin Long

Nevin Long

Nevin Long is a writer-reporter, film critic, and East Bay resident since 2009. When he's not slogging it in the rain after a mass demonstration he's writing about, he enjoys spending time with his wife and son, reading contemporary fiction, or kicking back and watching a movie so obscure not even the director's mother has heard of it.