Teachers protest cuts with one-day strike

OAKLAND, Calif. – Teachers here staged a one-day strike April 29 in response to the Oakland Unified School Board’s unilateral imposition of a contract that lays off teachers, increases class sizes and cuts adult education, with no pay raises.

David Laub, a math teacher for nine years at Oakland Tech, described how School Board Superintendent Tony Smith, who is paid $300,000 a year, and the board both recently took raises. Laub noted that the Oakland United School District has spent over $80 million on private consultants. All the while the teachers are told that they must accept cutbacks because funds simply aren’t available.

The Oakland Education Association, which represents the teachers in the 37,000-student system, says the district is spending nearly one-fifth of its budget on consultants, subcontractors and related outside vendors – about double the rate of other Alameda County school districts. Meanwhile, teachers’ salaries are among the lowest in the county.

School Superintendent Smith tried to avert the strike with a meeting request and an offer to return to bargaining, but the 2,800-member OEA was not deflected from action.

Picket lines held strong as over 90 percent of teachers adhered to the strike. The school board refused to close the schools for the day. The board brought in substitutes and specially solicited scabs, but the OEA preempted them by appealing directly to the parents. The union said that at two schools no students showed up.

Betty Olson-Jones, president of OEA, told a rally, “We have shut the district down today. It may be disruptive for one day, but it is a day of reckoning.”

Laub connected the bosses’ push against the teachers to the ongoing attempts to privatize schooling through charter schools. He emphasized that “the struggle around priorities in education and legitimate union contracts for workers is connected to Obama’s policies on education. We fight the attempts of Obama to privatize education, and we hope he pays attention to what we’re saying here in Oakland and rethinks his direction.”

“Our rallying cry is ‘defend public education!'”

The one-day strike came as California’s budget struggle sharpened in advance of Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “May Revise” of his state budget proposals, to be presented in Sacramento May 14. Despite his pledge earlier this year to refrain from further education cuts, California teachers’ unions point to plans to cut billions more from education spending.

Laub noted that the strike was endorsed by the AFL-CIO, and that the other bargaining units at the school, the Service Employees International Union, the Oakland Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, were in support, along with the Teamsters and International Longshore and Warehouse Union. Laub saw the strike as a promising development in building closer relations with broader organized labor.

Photo: Courtesy of Oakland Education Association