Confusion at center of Oakland teachers strike as both sides refute claims

ByJ.R. Stone and Anser Hassan KGO logo
Friday, May 5, 2023
Confusion at center on day 1 of Oakland teachers strike
As Oakland teachers begin their strike Thursday, confusion and frustration still remain for both the union and the school district.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- After seven days of bargaining with the school district with no deal reached, the Oakland teachers union went ahead with their planned strike on Thursday. More than 3,000 teachers are participating in the strike.

The Oakland Education Association, or OEA, tweeted Wednesday evening saying that the district has been missing in action at the bargaining table.

Oakland Unified says Central Office staff have been assigned to serve at schools to ensure students are safe. The teacher's union says OUSD has failed to come to the table in good faith.

1st day of the strike

Bay Area Congresswoman Barbara Lee pumped up the crowd in front of Oakland City Hall Thursday afternoon on the first day of the Oakland teachers' strike. But behind the scenes there appears to be confusion and frustration at the bargaining table.

"My goal as superintendent has always been to increase the compensation of our teachers," says Oakland Unified School District Superintendent, Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammell.

The district says what is on the table is a historic $70 million offer. It includes a retroactive 10% raise, a $5,000 one-time bonus and a 13% raise for all teachers - up to 22% for some.

"My team has thoughtfully planned out a way and offered recommendations to make sure the district can afford this massive compensation package to maintain financial stability in the years to come," says Dr. Johnson-Trammell.

The problem is that the Oakland Education Association, or the OEA, claims it's not an official proposal.

"The last proposal I've seen was three days ago. And that excluded a lot of our members. So, from where we are standing, that is the proposal, to exclude our members and not provide our students with resources," says Ismael Armendariz, interim president of the Oakland Education Association.

VIDEO: How Oakland teacher pay stacks up to CA, Bay Area salaries

Oakland teachers on strike as of Thursday are among the lowest paid in Alameda County. Here's a breakdown of how salaries compare across the Bay Area and the state.

The district says a written proposal was submitted Wednesday night. The union says it hasn't received any comprehensive proposal.

Adding to the confusion, the district argues it doesn't have to negotiate all the union's demands.

"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," explains Mike Hutchinson, President of the Oakland Unified School District.

Some of what would be considered outside of the scope are what are known as common good proposals. The district defines them as greater societal issues like homelessness, the environment and reparations. But once again, the union doesn't see it that way.

"What they are calling our common good, we are calling our student services. We are talking about special education services. We are talking about mental health services. We are talking resources for our lowest performing schools. That is bargainable. That is, under the law, bargainable," says Armendariz.

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

School board member Valarie Bachelor, representing District 6, says confusion over negotiations seems to run district-wide.

"The community is confused. I'm still continuously confused," says Bachelor. "And I have asked questions both to our legal counsel, as well as our chief negotiator, and our superintendent, about what proposals have we actually presented. And what proposal are what we call 'supposals.'"

She refutes claims that work can't be done regarding the common good proposals - pointing out that other Bay Area cities, like Richmond, have been able to adopt them.

Bachelor says possible concerns may come down to long-term legal issues. For instance, making proposals mandatory that may not be fully funded. But she adds there are ways around that.

"As a union organizer, I know that you can put language in there that codifies it to date certain, that makes it that, if there isn't the funding or the resources, then it's no longer available. Or, that it is up for negotiations, once again. All things our chief negotiator and superintendent know how to do."

How parents are reacting

"I don't know what's going on but I'm not bringing my children to school tomorrow because there are conflicting messages," said Louise Bracy.

Schools will be open according to the district, but Bracy says she's not bringing her daughter or her niece to school. She made the decision before that district note even went out.

"There may be teachers, there may not. They're asking for parents to come volunteer but then they're sending messages saying don't volunteer yet, so I'm just going to keep mine with me," said Bracy.

Parents we spoke with brought up teacher pay, specifically starting teacher pay which could be increased to slightly above $60,000.

RELATED: Here's why Oakland teachers are going on unauthorized 'Wildcat' strike over contract negotiations

"At the end of the day, everybody has to start somewhere but you do have to be able to, number one - pay your bills and it's a very expensive area to live in," said Veronica Smith who has a daughter in third grade.

Earlier this week, at least one parent we spoke with was vocal against any strike saying kids are behind after COVID closures and the 2019 strike.

"If you have a salary dispute, dispute that on the side but do your contract," said parent of three Reginald Mosley.

Parents picking up their children Wednesday afternoon say they stand with educators and support a short strike.

"If we were talking about months-long or extended periods, I think that is concerning however I think a couple of days is something that we can figure out as a community," said Smith.

"I support the teachers 100%. I don't think it's their fault. I'm really considering home schooling actually because the school shootings and this stuff - it's just too much," said Bracy.

More stories on the Oakland teacher strike here.

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