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Oakland teachers walk out over drawn out labor talks

While staging a walkout, Oakland teachers and their supporters march down Broadway to demand higher teacher pay on March 24, 2023. | Noah Berger for The Standard

Fed up with labor contract negotiations, hundreds of Oakland educators walked out of class on Friday to push for higher pay raises to keep more of them in the district. 

In a “wildcat strike” unauthorized by the teachers union, over 100 educators and a contingent of parents and students rallied for the Oakland Unified School District to meet bargaining demands in negotiations that have now gone on for nearly six months

The Downtown Oakland demonstration signaled to the district that many teachers are now officially prepared to strike, as they did almost a year ago over school closures. Teachers called for a nearly 23% raise to make wages more competitive with other Bay Area school districts and fill vacancies. 

Ahlad Reddy, a teacher at Oakland Technical High School, said that the district’s inability to fill vacancies has meant instability for students who may see their teachers rotate throughout the year. 

“I’m hearing a lot of teacher ambivalence about staying because of how low the pay is,” Reddy said. “That teacher turnover is also really unstable for students. They lose interest in the class.”

Oakland Technical High School teacher Ahlad Reddy rallies for higher teacher pay on Friday, March 24, 2023. | Noah Berger for The Standard

Parents and students have taken notice as well. Vanessa Brooks, who spoke in support of the teachers on Friday, told The Standard that cuts and overwhelmed staff have affected special education services for her grandchild at Roosevelt Middle School. 

“When you’re telling them to make bread without flour, it’s not going to happen,” Brooks said of teachers. “Kids really feel the stress. [Cuts] are continuing to contribute to the downfall of education in Oakland.”

Luna Fife has seen these issues play out firsthand—both as an Oakland high school student who graduated last year, and as a part-time teacher at MetWest High School through AmeriCorps. Despite seeing the effect on her teachers, she’s pursuing a career in the field—but doesn’t plan on teaching in Oakland. 

“You can kind of see the chronic disinvestment as a student,” Fife said. “You can tell when a teacher is overwhelmed.” 

MetWest High School staff member Luna Fife protests outside Oakland Unified School District headquarters for higher teacher pay on March 24, 2023. | Noah Berger for The Standard

Educators across California have pushed hard for better working and school conditions in their labor contracts, with many citing severe burnout stemming from the pandemic. Los Angeles schools reopened on Friday after a massive three-day strike from support staff with labor disputes still unsettled.

On the other side of the bay, the United Educators of San Francisco this week picketed to drum up support for bargaining negotiations underway with district officials. 

Oakland Unified emphasized that Friday’s action was not authorized by the union and said students were encouraged to attend classes. The Oakland Educators Association could not be reached for comment. 

“Unfortunately, the action did keep some students out of school, and adversely impacted student access to instruction at some schools,” the district wrote in a statement. “The district will continue to negotiate in good faith with OEA.”

Oakland teacher April Rojas protests outside Oakland Unified School District headquarters for higher teacher pay on March 24, 2023. | Noah Berger for The Standard

Michael Rodriguez, a teacher at United for Success Academy in Fruitvale who has been involved in union negotiations, said the Oakland Unified School District took several months to come back with proposals that fell far short of demands. The district came back with a proposal for a combined 8% raise but sought to add four days to the school year. 

“We're upset that they're not responding and found that several times they don't show up to the bargaining meeting,” Rodriguez said. “We’re ready to strike for unfair labor practices.”