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Oakland teachers strike, joining previous walkouts in LA, Denver


Nearly a year to the day after West Virginia teachers went on strike, they’re doing it again. Unions called a statewide walkout Tuesday over education legislation that they view as lacking their input and as retaliation for last year’s strike. (Feb. 19)

OAKLAND, Calif. — Teachers here walked off the job Thursday, claiming they are among the lowest-paid educators in the Bay area and demanding a 12 percent retroactive pay hike.

“Up with teachers. Down with school closures,” teachers chanted while holding signs reading “Fund our future” and other slogans.

The 3,000 teachers become the third group of public school educators from one of the country’s 50 largest cities to strike this year, joining their Los Angeles and Denver counterparts. Chicago also had a charter school teachers’ strike.

Teachers across the state of West Virginia returned to work Thursday, ending a two-day strike. Union leaders said they were confident lawmakers would not try to tie a raise for teachers to funds for the state’s first charter schools.

Oakland educators have worked without a contract since mid-2017. They want a 12 percent pay raise over a three-year deal, and they’re also asking for more support staff.

“Do we starve our public neighborhood schools so that they are cut and privatized or do we re-invest in our public neighborhood schools for our students and for a thriving city?” the state Education Association said in a tweet Thursday. “Oakland teachers say re-investment.”

Union president Keith Brown said current salaries – which range between $47,000 and $84,000 depending on experience – are not enough for teachers to afford living in the pricey Bay Area, leading to a high turnover rate. 

He also contends Oakland schools on the average have one nurse for every 1,350 students and one guidance counselor for every 600 students and would like those ratios at least cut in half.

In addition, the union wants smaller class sizes, and it’s fighting the closure of 24 schools predominantly attended by minority students.

The latest offer hiked the pay raise from 5 percent to 7 percent and included a 1.5 percent bonus, but the wage increase was spread over four years instead of three. The union rejected it Wednesday and got ready to strike.

“The proposal does not get at the essential heart of the matter, investing in our students by providing a living wage for our educators to keep them in Oakland,’’ Brown told USA TODAY.

A neutral fact-finder said a 9 percent raise would come closer to putting Oakland teacher salaries on par with their peers in other districts; the union says they’re the lowest paid in Alameda County.

However, the arbitrator also noted the Oakland Unified School District couldn’t afford that kind of raise, considering it’s already operating at a deficit. So he recommended a 6 percent increase over the first two years of the contract, with an economic re-opener for the third year.

The Oakland school district serves more than 36,000 students. Tens of thousands of parents will need to find alternative activities or child care for their children.

Contributing: John Bacon in McLean, Virginia.

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