by Allyssa Victory
Oakland teachers earn some of the lowest salaries out of all the school districts in California. The Oakland Education Association (OEA) – representing thousands of the district’s employees – began negotiating their contract renewal in early 2023. The OEA announced a strike on May 4, 2023. The strike continued as the union negotiated more pay and topics like school safety, homeless students and the reparations for Black students campaign.
OEA referred to these proposals as “common good” proposals that help to redress structural and historical harms and to address the intersecting failures of government affecting children and families. OUSD has struggled for decades with fiscal health, transparency, equitable student outcomes and community trust.
The strike meant that most teachers did not report to work but instead showed up at their school sites to picket. Many teachers are also parents and brought their children to help organize and to the daily union rallies and activities. Speakers at strike rallies included several Oakland City Council members and Oakland’s Congresswoman Barbara Lee.
After more than a week on strike, the union and school district announced a tentative agreement that included increased pay and commitments on “common good” proposals.
Many of the common good proposals echo commitments already made by the school district. For example, the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) passed the George Floyd resolution in 2021, which disbanded the district’s police department and committed to anti-racism training, community-driven safety planning and work to identify funding for Black student holistic health and support services. The tentative agreement includes five full-time TSAs at Black Thriving Community Schools to support Historically Black Schools and help implement the Black Student Thriving Plan, shared governance on community schools, as well as commitments to work with local agencies and nonprofits to increase access to transportation and housing for OUSD students in need.
The reparations for Black students campaign was launched years ago and demands investments in OUSD’s Black students, staff and majority-Black campuses to repair the documented harms. The harms include the extreme disparity of Black students referred to juvenile justice at rates 75 times higher than their counterparts; lack of mental health and counseling resources; poverty and homelessness reflected in the city population; and under-resourcing and/or closure of public schools serving majority Black students. Including such commitments in a union contract allows the union to advocate for “common good” and provides greater accountability to ensure the district takes action according to their written agreements.
Strikes are a regular part of union and labor organizing to advance workers’ rights. On the heels of the OEA strike, Oakland Popeye’s workers announced a strike due to various labor violations including exploitation of children workers. Wage theft is the most widespread type of theft occurring at any time in California.
Popeye workers also express that reasons for their strike include rampant sexual harassment. Workers’ rights are constantly under attack. This is why fully funding and staffing Oakland’s severely under-resourced Department of Workplace and Employment Standards (DWES) is critical to this year’s budget cycle. Oakland DWES was established to parallel the state labor commissioner’s office which faces large backlogs of worker wage claims and other workplace complaints. DWES is supposed to parallel San Francisco’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement which reports millions recovered for workers each year.
When you see a strike happening, do not cross picket lines and do learn about the issues the workers are organizing around. Strikes are not unique to Oakland or the Bay Area, as we are witnessing a strike by the Writers’ Guild of America which began on May 2 and has halted most national TV and film production. Investing in and protecting workers’ rights is a necessary part of economic, racial and social justice.
Allyssa Victory is a civil rights attorney, former Oakland mayoral candidate, community leader and Bay View columnist. Contact her on Twitter at @Victory4Oakland.