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Oakland teachers will strike on Thursday. Here’s why

Art teacher Megan Gabriele, right, and English teacher Elizabeth Mahlke raise their fists while protesting for higher teacher pay on March 24, 2023, in Oakland. | Noah Berger for The Standard

After urgent, last-minute attempts to settle negotiations failed to prevent an escalation, Oakland teachers are officially going on strike.

On May Day, a celebration of the international labor movement, the Oakland Education Association announced teachers would walk out on Thursday, upping the pressure on district leadership to reach an agreement. If no agreement is reached, some 2,500 teachers would be out of the classroom, leaving the district’s roughly 34,000 students and their families to arrange other plans for the school day with just three weeks of instruction remaining until the summer. 

“We promise you we’ve done everything we can to avert this strike,” said Ismael Armendariz, the union’s interim president. “We met with the district, and it wasn’t very productive. We have yet to see meaningful proposals in writing. The time to act is now.”

Oakland teachers have been working without a contract since November, around when negotiations for a new agreement began. But talks made little headway, leading union members to vote overwhelmingly to authorize a strike last week and pressure the district to come back with proposals that the educators would take seriously.

“Any report that the district is not offering a fair and reasonable compensation package to all OEA members is false,” said Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell in an April 26 video. “We believe a strike would be inappropriate and unnecessary. As we continue to work in good faith toward an agreement, what our students need is stability and continued access to learning.” 

At an unauthorized walkout on March 24, known as a wildcat strike, teachers called for smaller class sizes and a nearly 23% raise, to compete with other Bay Area school districts and fill vacancies. Oakland Unified School District countered with a combined 8% raise while seeking to add four days to the school year.

It’s hardly the first time that the East Bay district’s educators have tussled with the administration. Last April, Oakland teachers staged a one-day strike over the district’s decision to close schools. In 2019, teachers struck for a week to reach an agreement on their most recent contract.

Amid both the 2022 and 2023 votes, the school district pushed for state officials to deem potential strikes illegal. As in that last dispute, the state labor board denied the district’s request this week, clearing the teachers’ union to legally hold a strike.