Oakland teachers protest workload and pick up pickets signs during contract negotiations
on January 30, 2015
It started with a bargaining tactic, and continued on Wednesday afternoon as a group of about 70 parents, students, and teachers walked down Park Boulevard carrying signs and shouting that they wanted a fairer contract. The march led to a packed school board meeting, as teachers, parents, and community members eagerly waited to speak about an item that didn’t appear on the agenda: contract negotiations between Oakland’s teachers and the school district.
Negotiations between teachers, psychologists, counselors and the district began in October 2013, and with teachers asking for smaller class sizes, at least a 12 percent increase in base pay, and hard caps on caseloads for psychologists, counselors, and special education teachers. But a contract has yet to be agreed upon. So teachers are still working under the most up-to-date contract, the one from 2003-2008.
In 2003, Oakland Unified School District teachers received a 2.37 percent salary increase, but have not seen one in over 10 years. The district and the Oakland Education Association, the union that represents teachers, counselors, psychologists, and other staff, are currently working on a proposed 10 percent salary increase that will phase in over about 18 months. According to the district, the proposal consists of a three-year contract with a 10 percent pay increase over the current and coming school years, with an opportunity to negotiate for further salary increases in the third year. Though the first three percent is guaranteed, the remaining seven percent is contingent on state funding.
“We just don’t feel that a contingent raise is a raise,” said Montera Middle School inclusion support teacher Celina Andrade, speaking before Wednesday’s rally. “We just don’t want to agree to that. We want to agree to a solid raise; and this is really a student-centered rally and direct action, because it’s really not a safe working or learning environment when students are packed into classes. “
Teachers and counselors say they are handling caseloads that are too large. In accordance with the 2003-2008 contract, the student to counselor ratio is 700-to-1 for grades 7-12. “We currently have one counselor for 890 students at Montera!” said 8th grade social science teacher Nicholas Miller as he stood in the middle of a chanting crowd on Wednesday. “We need more counselors. Counselors and special education teachers need lower caseloads because they are the ones who do a tremendous amount of paperwork and their caseloads are way too high.”
Teachers say they have struggled with class sizes, particularly in kindergarten to 3rd grade and special education, which can have 24 or more students in a class. Teachers would like the limit to be between 15 and 24. “We also really want to get some class size reduction,” continued Miller. “ Right now for a middle school teacher, my maximum total number of students is 160 students [daily]. So just imagine how much time I can spend with each individual student. It is not as much as I would like to be, because I have so many students in my classes.”
In December, feeling that there was little to no movement happening at the bargaining table, teachers, counselors and the psychologists working at Montera began participating in “work-to-rule,” or doing no more than the minimum amount of work required by their contracts, coming in 8:30 am and leaving exactly at 3:30 pm (4:30 for psychologists). School staff often does extra unpaid work including supervising after-school activities, doing work at home, and working through lunch, which the staff refused to do under work-to-rule.
By January 5, all Montera and Joaquin Miller Elementary schoolteachers were officially doing work-to-rule. Within three weeks, the teachers at nine other schools joined, including Montclair Elementary, Cleveland Elementary, Esperanza Elementary, Sequoia Elementary, Kaiser Elementary, Carl B. Munck Elementary, Glenview Elementary, New Highland Academy and Edna Brewer Middle School. Staff at many of the schools began organizing marches, handing out leaflets and sending emails to the district demanding a new contract for teachers.
“The message we just want to send is that if you want a really good working educational environment, you have to give us less kids,” said Andrade. “You have to hire more teachers and you have to invest in your teachers, and that’s not what’s going on right now.”
After two days of “work-to-rule” at Montera and Joaquin Miller, families received a letter from the principals saying that the “work-to-rule” actions were “discouraging in light of constructive, candid, and ongoing good faith negotiations between the District and OEA [Oakland Education Association]” and that there was no crisis at the bargaining table.
“There are negotiations that occur at the bargaining table, then there’s the political theater that occurs in the streets through the media,” said OSUD spokesman Troy Flint. “Ultimately, we want to get past the posturing to reach an agreement that’s going to better compensate Oakland teachers and that’s is going be good for Oakland students.”
OEA president Trish Gorham said the union supports work-to-rule. “The schools were told that as long as they work their contractual hours and did not violate our agreements in the contract that they were protected and supported,” wrote Gorham in an email. “It is important to put pressure on the district. The main effect of these kinds of actions is to make a stronger, more unified workforce. That is the real threat to the district.”
Eighth grade Montera student Henry Quintella, who spoke prior to Wednesday’s board meeting, said the work-to-rule protest has affected him and that he wants his teachers to get better contracts. “It’s affected me and my classmates since we can’t come into class anymore during lunch to talk about our work or our grades because [teachers] have lunch off,” said Quintella. “But I think the district should try to work harder on teacher contracts, because the teachers work really hard, and I don’t think they get enough credit for what they do after school hours and during lunch.”
Though teachers say they will continue “working-to-rule” until further changes are made to their contracts, they want to make it clear that this is not a work stoppage, said Andrade. “They are not doing this to hurt students, but rather to show the district what it is that they are paying for,” she said.
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