The strike by 3,000 Oakland public school teachers continued for a third day on Monday and about 1,000 teachers and their supporters gathered in front of Oakland City Hall for a boisterous midday rally.
Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, who’s now a chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, questioned the Oakland Unified School District’s assertion that it can’t afford to give teachers the 12 percent raise over three years that they are seeking.
“When people in power say that they can’t afford it, what they mean is either they don’t care or they’re not going to work hard to get the resources necessary,” Reich said.
Reich told the teachers that by going on strike:
“What you are doing is bringing attention to a fundamental injustice, a fundamental imbalance in power.”
Reich alleged that school district officials “don’t want to stand up for the children of Oakland.”
He said, “Not only is that unjust, it is cowardice.”
The teachers’ strike began on Thursday after two years of failed negotiations between the union and the school district and is the first multi-day walkout by Oakland teachers since 1996, when they went on strike for more than two months.
The district previously offered a 5 percent raise over three years but last week made a new offer of 8.5 percent over four years. However, Keith Brown, the president of the Oakland Education Association, which represents the teachers, has said that’s still not enough to meet the union’s demand for a living wage that addresses the high cost of living in Oakland.
The school district said in a statement that the union hasn’t changed its bargaining position in response to its revised offer and has maintained its same proposal on the primary issues in the talks since May 2018.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond joined the contract talks on Monday when negotiations between the district and the union resumed.
“We want to get the strike resolved quickly so teachers and students can be where they want to be — in their classes,” Thurmond said in a statement.
“We met with leaders in Oakland last week and have been in contact since then. My top priority is keeping them at the table to get this resolved,” he said.
Brown is also participating in the talks but left them to join the rally at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza in front of City Hall.
Brown told the crowd that Thurmond joined the talks “because we needed an adult in the room.”
Brown said the school district “has no credibility because it hasn’t listened to us.”
After the rally ended, teachers and their supporters marched to the nearby Elihu M. Harris State Building at 1515 Clay St., where the contract talks are taking place.
As raindrops began to fall, they chanted, “Every day, rain or shine, we are here to walk the line!”
Teachers in other school districts around the Bay Area are also staying out of work in support of Oakland teachers.
Lizzy Dutton, a teacher at Mission High School in San Francisco, said in a statement that many teachers there “took a sickout for public education to join Oakland educators on the picket line across the Bay Bridge.”
Dutton said Oakland teachers “are fighting for demands that will have ripple effects across the state” and she hopes more teachers will participate in another sickout on Thursday.
Dutton said Thurmond should support Oakland’s teachers because teacher unions were “instrumental” in electing him in the election last November.
The Berkeley Federation of Teachers said that on Tuesday, hundreds of Berkeley teachers, classified staff, and school supporters will take part in a citywide day of action in support of Oakland teachers.