OAKLAND, Calif. ― Thousands of teachers in Oakland, California, went on strike Thursday, demanding higher wages for teachers and more resources for students in their district.
The Oakland Education Association, who organized the strike on behalf of 3,000 Oakland educators, are demanding a 12 percent raise in salary, smaller class sizes and more counselors and nurses for students.
After being unable to reach an agreement with the school district, the union called for the Thursday strike. Teachers picketed at their schools in the morning, then hundreds rallied together at Oakland’s city hall at Frank Ogawa Plaza midday. Some chanted, “Which side are you on, board, which side are you on?” They planned to picket again at school closing times.
“We’re on strike for our students,” said Estefania Rodriguez, a sixth-grade humanities teacher at Alliance Academy in what she called “deep east Oakland,” where there are majority black and brown students. She noted that wage increases mattered, but “more important” were additional resources to serve students. “We’re asking for the education our students deserve.”
Oakland teachers, in a district serving 37,000 students, are the latest to demand more pay and better classroom conditions. Tens of thousands of educators in Los Angeles went on strike last month, and won a better agreement, as did West Virginia teachers earlier this week.
Leading Democratic lawmakers in California expressed support for the striking teachers in Oakland, including Oakland Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) who said teachers “deserve a living wage, proper resources, and our support.”
“Teachers invest their time and energy to educate the future of our country, and they deserve our support,” tweeted Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who is running for president in 2020.
“All teachers want this strike to be as short as possible.” Rodriguez added, saying the strike planned to continue into Friday, and until their demands were met. “We want to be back in our classrooms with our students. But we’re striking … until we have an offer that is sustainable.”
At the rally, Laura Jetter, a sixth- to eighth-grade teacher at La Escuelita, held a sign (pictured below) that read: “I live with my parents because I can’t afford rent.”
Several Oakland teachers said they and their colleagues couldn’t afford to live in the area on their current wages.
Oakland, just across the water from San Francisco and the tech hub of Silicon Valley, has long been mired by the affordable housing crisis plaguing the Bay Area and California more broadly.
“We can’t live in the Bay Area,” Rodriguez said, noting that teachers in Oakland were experiencing “a specific financial hardship, due to gentrification and unaffordable housing.”
She said some teachers were living up to two hours away. She lives in the Oakland neighborhood of Fruitvale, but has trouble making rent and is already looking for elsewhere to live once her lease is up.
Paula Mitchell, a teacher on special assignment at Grass Valley Elementary who has been teaching in Oakland for over 25 years, said that while she is “fortunate” to have long been living in a place at a reasonable price, she can’t afford to leave it and move elsewhere in Oakland if she wanted to.
“It’s like $2,600 a month for a one-bedroom … That’s like 75 percent of my salary,” Mitchell said. “Most teachers can’t do that.”
She added that the cost of living has risen so much in recent years that some teachers have had to take second jobs to get by. “That doesn’t make for high-quality teaching,” she added.
School district officials have said they don’t get enough money from the state to be able to spend more on wages and other resources. The district may even have to lay off some staff soon, but those would not be teachers, reported CNN.
However, teachers HuffPost spoke to said the issue was the district mismanaging funds, spending too much on administrators and outside consultants rather than on its classrooms.
“I really believe the district has been mismanaging funds and they need to cut money from the top and send it down to the schools,” Jetter said at the rally.
HuffPost reached out to district officials, but did not immediately get a response. Oakland Unified schools had a message on its website Thursday that it “remains committed to reaching a fair agreement with OEA,” and that all schools would remain open during the strike.
Earlier this week, the school district had proposed a 7 percent wage increase and 1.5 percent bonus over three years. But the teacher’s union has demanded a 12 percent increase.
Teachers also mentioned school closings in the area as a problem, as well as the growth of charter schools draining students and resources from the district’s public schools.
“Teaching is the hardest thing you could ever do,” Mitchell said. “People need to understand, we work so hard and for so long have gotten so little respect. We want honoring of the crucial, critical job we’re doing.”
She noted there were larger “systemic issues” in how schools are funded nationwide.
“So much needs to change to make sure our schools are equitable and there aren’t huge disparities between wealthy communities and poor communities,” she said. “It’s time to deal with it.”