On Monday evening the Alameda Central Labor Council—an organization that represents over 100 workers’ unions and helps employers bargain to improve their workplaces—considered a motion to get school workers’ unions behind an effort to form a sanctioned picket line in front of the closed Lakeview Elementary School to prevent district officials from moving into the building to use it as an administrative office, according to Oakland Education Association (OEA) members.
“We introduced a motion and there was overwhelming sympathy for it from the delegates. The leadership, however, felt that it had to be revised,” said Jack Gerson, a retired Oakland teacher and a former member of the OEA executive board and bargaining team, who was at the labor council meeting Monday night. “The main obstacle was they felt that all the school workers’ unions hadn’t been consulted—the OEA had been consulted, but some of the other school workers’ unions hadn’t been. They felt they hadn’t been involved sufficiently in the process and were pushing back.”
New OEA president Trish Gorham said that the executive board of the OEA has not yet considered the idea of putting up a sanctioned picket line, although the union supported the Lakeview encampment that was shut down last week. “We supported the action of occupation,” said Gorham of the active presence of OEA members during last week’s protest at Lakeview. “We formally did that as an executive board, especially to give a voice to what’s happening in public education right now—the dismantling, quite frankly, in urban centers of public education as a right. So, we did as a union support the occupation. The sanctioned picket line, that has not come before us.”
Gorham, an Oakland native, came into office as the new OEA president on July 1, after former president Betty Olson-Jones finished serving three two-year terms.
Gorham, who also attended the Monday night meeting, said that although the motion to sanction a picket line was not approved, “It still was discussed and strategy was discussed. Now, the next step is to have those conversations with those unions that would be affected by a sanctioned picket.” This is going to happen today, she said, and will involve conversations with the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 as well as other local unions.
The decision to hold off on sanctioning a picket line comes seven days after Oakland Unified School District police and other law enforcement officers raided a tent city protest at Lakeview Elementary School. The protest is an effort to nullify the district’s decision to close five elementary schools —Lakeview, Lazear, Marshall, Maxwell and Sante Fe—and keep all neighborhood schools open.
The raid last week, which was conducted by OUSD and city police officers as well as those from the Oakland Housing Authority and the California Highway Patrol, evicted around 20 teachers, parents and their children who had been camping and holding a volunteer-run “People’s School” on the site since June 15. Hours after being ushered away from Lakeview, protesters held a rally and marched to OUSD superintendent Tony Smith’s house, then began making plans to set up the school at Splash Pad Park, where a city farmers’ market is regularly held.
The school district is monitoring the effort to organize a picket line. “If the Alameda Labor Council were to approve their petition—which is far from a certainty—it would definitely introduce a wrinkle into the situation, but I’m not sure how likely that outcome is,” said OUSD spokesperson Troy Flint during a phone interview Monday morning. “I think it’s a rather dubious prospect.”
Several teachers’ union members say the prospect is real, but details are still being ironed out. “There were questions about some of the wording not conforming to the bylaws,” Gerson said of challenges during the labor council’s decision process on Monday. “There was a motion to expedite the process of getting different school workers unions together with Bob Mendel [a former OEA executive board member] and me from the OEA and Lakeview sit-in. The delegates want the process expedited and voted overwhelmingly for that. But it remains to be seen, however, whether the leadership will expedite the process.”
Gerson, who did not know how many unions were represented during the meeting, said a decision is expected in a few days. There were about 75 delegates in the room, he said, but many unions have multiple delegates. “It remains to be seen how much pressure the leadership will put on the different unions to get together and meet within the next day or two. We will know a lot more in the days to come,” he said.
Gorham said there are several challenges that need to be discussed if the picket is to be sanctioned. “There are union members that work in the school that’s affected,” such as custodians and clerical workers, she said. “So, directing them not to go to work could be problematic because of how a sanction works. If it’s not a sanctioned union activity—if it wasn’t called for by their union—then they could have repercussions in those jobs. Those are the discussions that are taking place: What would be the ramification of having a sanctioned picket line on members, the custodians and clerical, that are still working in those buildings.”
The district has not made a public statement indicating when they will move into the Lakeview site to form administrative offices. Protesters are using text alert messages and Twitter to keep each other and the community informed about new developments affecting the campus. OUSD school police officers are monitoring Lakeview on a regular basis, Flint said.