During a closed meeting on Wednesday, the Alameda Central Labor Council—an organization that represents over 100 workers’ unions and helps employers bargain to improve their workplaces—decided against a motion to sanction a workers’ picket line in front of Lakeview Elementary School which would have prevented unionized workers employed by the school district from helping to develop the site into administrative offices.
Parents, teachers, and community activists have pushed for a sanctioned picket since Oakland Unified School District police and other law enforcement officers raided a tent city protest at Lakeview Elementary School in early July. The tent city protest was a reaction to the district’s decision to close five elementary schools—Lakeview, Lazear, Marshall, Maxwell and Sante Fe.
The sanctioning of a picket line has been a contentious issue, spawning debates about how it would affect electrical, custodial and clerical workers who are not being called on by their unions to picket and not clock in for work. Lakeview protesters have argued that school closures have an effect on these workers, too, in addition to teachers, who are represented by the Oakland Education Association (OEA).
Jack Gerson, a retired Oakland teacher and a former member of the OEA board and bargaining team, was at the labor council meeting Wednesday night and said there was no vote on sanctioning a picket line “because it’s in the labor council’s bylaws that all the unions have to agree” in order for there to be a vote, he said. They didn’t agree, he said, so the issue was non-votable.
“They’re not going to endorse a picket line, because to do so requires that all of the unions involved in the work site agree,” said Gerson. “In this case, there are several different OUSD unions that have to agree, and at least two of the other unions feel that a picket line would prevent their members from working and they can’t ask their members to forgo their pay and risk the jeopardy of being fired.”
“I think the decision was disappointing, but I think it’s also dangerous,” said Joel Velazquez, a leader in the protest movement who has one son who attended Lakeview. “I think the labor unions had an opportunity with the rank and file parents and community that wanted to unite in a battle to take back public education. It affects all of us.”
“They really missed out on an opportunity here,” he continued.
“Obviously, we’re pleased with the decision,” said OUSD spokesperson Troy Flint, who learned of the labor council’s decision after a phone call from an Oakland North reporter on Friday.
The district has not released a date indicating when staff will move into the Lakeview site for the 2012-13 school year, although protesters have noticed items being removed from the school during previous rallies against school closures. According to Flint, the administrative office will house the district’s family services unit, which includes student assignments (enrollment), a translation unit, violence prevention unit, health services, mental health and counseling services, and a unit that deals with the district’s refugee population and students from homeless families.
The district’s current family services unit is spread across four various locations. “We choose this building because of size,” Flint said. “It’s certainly big enough to accommodate people, during registration for instance. Location as well—it’s a fairly well known site so that makes identification easier for people. It’s reasonably close to public transit lines and great freeway access. That should make it easer for people to get to and from the site.”
Flint said that the jobs of the union members represented by the labor council would remain unaffected by the district’s decision to close schools. “There was no impact on job loss because of school closure. Really, reducing the size of the district is in the long-term interest of unions in terms of our ability to avoid layoff and possibly—somewhere down the road—begin to work toward modest pay raises,” Flint said.
Gerson said he walked away from the labor council’s decision with more questions. “If the community says we need to keep schools open, how is labor going to relate to that?” he asked. “The district is going downhill fast in terms of public schools, and if it continues, all the unions will lose all their jobs if there’s no more public education. When is it going to be seen that it’s in everybody’s interest to stand together and fight and figure out how to do something?”
Protesters will re-start the People’s School For Public Education next Tuesday and Thursday, Velasquez said, before deciding on a last-class celebration with teachers, children and parent’s for an official end of the summer program. The location for these events will be Splash Pad Park, just off of Grand Avenue.
“We want to create a school in Oakland with a social justice classroom,” Velasquez said of another school in the planning stages. “The concept is not new, but the way it will come into fruition is a little different.”
“We’re not going anywhere,” he added. “That’s just a fact.”