What are 'common good' demands? The reason behind deadlock in Oakland teacher strike negotiations

ByAnser Hassan KGO logo
Saturday, May 6, 2023
'Common good' demands stall Oakland teachers strike negotiations
What are 'common good' demands? The key reason for the deadlock between Oakland Unified and the teachers' union in strike negotiations.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- As hundreds take part in day two of the Oakland teachers' strike, Oakland School Board Member Valarie Bachelor says she is getting hundreds of emails about one issue.

"I have gotten hundreds of emails from families, educators, and the community, to give the district the authority to negotiate around common good demands," says Bachelor, who represents District 6.

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Common good proposals are often items that are not related to classroom curriculm, such as green spaces on campus, shared governance, or student homelessness.

"We are one of the biggest landowners in Oakland. And we have a lot of properties that we aren't using. And that we can't actually afford to rebuild or refurbish or redo," said Bachelor.

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In this example, under common good, the teachers union is asking the district to prioritize Oakland's homeless students.

"If there is going to be housing there, that it is affordable housing and that it potentially goes to our unhoused students first," says Bachelor.

The district may share those values, but they don't see them as mandatory to the negotiating process.

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"There are items outside the scope of the contract of what we are required to negotiate. The school board has not authorized negotiators to go outside of that scope," said Mike Hutchinson, OUSD School Board President, at a press conference on Thursday.

Currently, the six-member school board is split on common good. Some are concerned about giving up too much power or being bound to projects they can't afford. Bachelor argues they can codify language in the contract to protect the district and not impact its ability to govern, such as through contingencies based on staffing or funding.

"There can be language around 'this will be a pilot project for the next year or two,' and we will revisit this and have to negotiate. All of those are different ways we can handle this. But as a board, we have not been able to give clear direction or directives to even have those conversations," she says.

Without the board's authorization, common good seems to be stalling the negotiations between the union and the district.

MORE: Oakland school board rejects proposed resolutions to cut budget, lay off staff

"Teaching and learning at this time, has really expanded beyond the normal conditions of just teaching in a classroom. Our kids, after the pandemic, have come with significant needs, that myself, as a classroom teacher, am not able to meet. And so, we believe that it is within our bargaining because it impacts our daily conditions," says Vilma Serrano, who is one of the chief negotiators for the union.

Serrano claims common good issues like reparations aren't about giving Black students money. Rather, it's about investing in historically Black schools that have been neglected.

"That is about directly investing in our schools, and that includes things that are mandatory subjects of bargaining, such as additional staffing," says Serrano.

Bachelor believes the negotiations will come down to common good proposals.

"That is my feeling. That is the sentiment that I am hearing from folks on the line. That is the sentiment of folks that are not on the line, but calling me, emailing me. It is really going to come down to that," says Bachelor.

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