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San Francisco teachers on the verge of striking, sound alarm at City Hall

Cassondra Curiel announces over 3,000 union members voted to strike in front of SFUSD headquarters on Thursday. | Source: George Kelly/The Standard

San Francisco teachers appear to be on the verge of striking after the union for public school educators and other workers held the first of two potential votes Wednesday to authorize a walk-out.

The United Educators of San Francisco, which counts 6,000 union members, told a news conference at noon Thursday in front of the city’s school district headquarters they had voted to strike. 

Cassondra Curiel, president of the union, made her criticism of the San Francisco Unified School District clear—from a lack of wage increases to a scandal-plagued payroll system.

Curiel said Thursday over 3,000 members voted 97% in favor of authorizing a strike.

While the union has voted in favor of a strike once, they will have to vote again before a walkout actually happens.

United Educators of San Francisco President Cassondra Curiel calls for raises outside of San Francisco Unified School District's main office on Tuesday, Aug. 23. | Source: Ida Mojadad/The Standard

Labor negotiations between the union and school district have not proven fruitful throughout this year, and another bargaining session is scheduled for Monday. 

Curiel said a second vote is then needed to authorize a strike, which could take place after Monday’s meeting. Union leaders would then have discretion to authorize a work stoppage without a grace period.

Officials at City Hall are also on edge, as the city gives the school district millions of dollars and a strike and subsequent school closures could have far-reaching political impacts.

“The reason why folks are worried about this is because of how serious it is,” Curiel told The Standard on Thursday morning. “Educators have spent the last three years feeling really disrespected and underappreciated, particularly in San Francisco. And what should be clear to all San Francisco citizens is the additional stress of this payroll situation, and how terribly it impacts folks who deal with our youth.”

As recently as August, public school workers were entering their third year with a faulty payroll system as the district continued to sift through a backlog of roughly 3,000 issues. The district spent $40 million on the payroll system EMPowerSF, only to encounter numerous issues of teachers and other workers being paid severely late.

The dispute over the district’s offer and the union’s demands also focuses on pay raises and additional income for employees who have specialized training.

“Negotiating a contract with little to no serious response, it builds up and folks have had it,” Curiel said.

Parents in San Francisco have repeatedly expressed dismay with the city’s education system, signaled by the recall of three school board members last year over concerns about the quality of education, a perceived focus on changing school names over getting kids back in classrooms during the pandemic, and vocal frustration with a change in admissions policy to Lowell High School.

Maia Piccagli, a parent to a fourth-grader and seventh-grader and a parent-action committee member at San Francisco Community School in the city's Excelsior neighborhood, told The Standard that she hoped the district would take educators' demands seriously.

"We've started to see breakdowns in our school. My school, for example, is missing a middle school math teacher. We have about 100 kids at our middle school who don't have a math teacher. Our counselor takes that position," Piccagli said.

"That means we have someone who's not an expert at teaching math teaching math, and then it leaves our counselor position open. I know this is not unique at all to my specific school. There are tons of vacancies in the district."

Nato Green, an SEIU 1021 organizer and chief negotiator, also weighed in with support from the school district's classified staff, who have been negotiating a separate contract for over a year. Green said 62% of that union's members, made up of food service workers, secretaries and custodians, voted by 99.5% over two days last week in support of a possible strike.

"As you can see from the press conference today, all the school districts' unions are standing shoulder to shoulder," Green told The Standard.

"The San Francisco district is under the same civil service system as the city. Our members can transfer laterally into the city employment and immediately make 15% to 30% and pay less for health care. That has driven a huge staffing retention crisis within the school district, leaving members with untenable workloads and particularly making the district cut corners on cleaning school facilities."

A strike would not only threaten instruction in the weeks to come, but it could also jeopardize a billion-dollar bond measure the school district is putting on the ballot in March 2024.

Officials for the school district declined to comment Wednesday, referring back to previous statements.

“Our employees are critical to creating an educational environment where each and every student can learn and thrive,” officials said. “We want to reach an agreement that honors our employees’ contribution and ensures we are responsibly stewarding public funds.”

George Kelly contributed to this report.

Josh Koehn can be reached at josh@sfstandard.com
George Kelly can be reached at gkelly@sfstandard.com