On the Picket Line

Weeklong strike in Oakland ends as teachers’ struggle continues

By Eric Simpson
March 25, 2019

OAKLAND, Calif. — Teachers here voted by 58 percent to accept a new contract March 3 ending a seven-day strike that had emptied the schools. They came out stronger from the effort, but the vote reflected deep divisions over the limitations in what they got. Many who voted against the agreement thought more could have been won — better pay, smaller class sizes and the hiring of more counselors, speech pathologists and psychologists.

The 3,000 teachers, school nurses and other personnel organized by the Oakland Education Association won widespread support from parents and students. They organized pickets and daily rallies that involved thousands.

Teachers won higher pay — though less than they demanded and deserve. But the crisis in the schools will continue to deepen, as will the discussions among school workers and workers throughout the city about how to continue to fight.

The situation faced by the majority of Oakland students has been deteriorating for decades. The contract doesn’t mention the 24 schools in working-class neighborhoods on the chopping block.

“We need to keep working to prevent school closures,” Denise Holladay, a special education teacher for 33 years and union representative, told the Militant while waiting to vote on the contract. “This isn’t just a local issue. We need to mobilize everyone or this situation will spread to any civil service job.”

Modest gains were made in winning more nurses and other support personnel. Before the new contract, 22 nurses were supposed to look after 37,000 students, a ratio of one nurse for every 1,700 students. Under the new contract it is one nurse for every 1,350 students. The contract also mandates reduction of the maximum class size by one student next year, and one the following year.

As schools reopened the school board voted on $22 million worth of cuts planned before the strike. Hundreds of students and teachers missed class to oppose the cuts.

District officials sought to divide students from teachers, claiming that the cuts in school libraries, foster youth programs, and school maintenance and supplies were needed to pay for teachers’ raises. The cuts passed in a 4-3 vote. Students have threatened to strike, underlining the fact that the struggle continues. The contract is retroactive to 2017, and will expire June 30, 2021.