Bill Balderston (OEA member and organizer)
Posted May 1, 2022
On Friday, April 29th, Oakland teachers, members of the Oakland Education Association (OEA), waged a one-day strike in protest over school closures (eleven targeted, with three of them for next year). The strike was extremely successful, with 94% of the members striking, with active pickets at nearly all 85 sites. Likewise, similar percentages of students did not come to school. The District acknowledged that the schools would not be able to function.
There were also large numbers of parents and community activists, including from DSA and other left groups, on the picket lines, especially at the targeted schools. In addition, there were members of other teacher unions in the region (Berkeley, San Francisco, and others) who turned out, as well as SEIU 1021 members who represent school workers. Even members of the principals’ union were in the house (or in this case, outside). Leaders from the California Teachers Association and the National Education Association with which OEA is affiliated, were present. There was a workers and community fest later in the morning, celebrating the militant turnout.
The strike was an Unfair Labor Practice action (thus, the one day length) based on the violation of agreements in the 2019 OEA contract and pandemic MOUs, that specified a process of negotiations before proposing any school closures. These closures even contradicted a policy passed by the school board the previous October. The Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) threatened action even though they had no basis for an injunction. The core issue of this strike was that such closures especially impacted schools that served majority Black and brown students. The ACLU has filed an action against OUSD for racial discrimination and demanded that the state attorney general, Rob Bonta, to take up the case.
But what made this strike even more impactful was that it coincided with a one-day strike called by the longshore workers, ILWU Local 10, over the proposal for a new stadium to be constructed directly next to the port of Oakland. In reality, this action primarily centers development construction and gentrification promoted by Donald Fisher, primary owner of the Oakland A’s and head of the GAP corporation, which also champions charter schools. The coordination of the two mobilizations was organized by a coalition called Schools and Labor Against Privatization (SLAP), initiated by Local 10, but involving many teachers and other labor and community activists. There was a rally at city hall in the afternoon, opposing both the stadium project and school closures, after which many folks, including substantial numbers of teachers, went to support the ILWU by picketing at the docks. The OEA and its president, Keith Brown, publicized this rally and reaffirmed our support for Local 10. However, they did not formally endorse the event due to a major divide in the labor movement in Alameda County: the majority of the Labor Council, especially the building trades and Teamsters, backed the stadium. Nonetheless, there were a large number of OEA members at the city hall rally and at the docks.
Update: On Monday, May 2nd, the OEA Representative Council voted to publicly oppose the stadium project, in defiance of the Alameda Central Labor Council position.