OAKLAND, Calif. (KRON) — Thousands of Oakland Unified School District teachers refused to return to their classrooms on Thursday and a strike is underway at hundreds of schools.

The Oakland Education Association announced Thursday night that the strike would continue into Friday. Teachers will picket starting at 7:30 a.m. and there will be a rally at the United for Success Academy in Oakland.

The goal of the strike is to compel the district to approve a new contract with Oakland Education Association teachers union that will improve working conditions for teachers, as well as learning supports for students. Nearly 3,000 educators have been working without a contract from OUSD since October.

Teachers are demanding a livable wage, improved services for students with disabilities, additional mental health support for students struggling post-pandemic, and investment in Historically Black Community Schools.

The school district held a 25-minute-long news conference with reporters Thursday morning. (Watch the full OUSD press conference in the video player above.)

There are about 34,000 students enrolled in Oakland Unified School District schools.

oakland teachers strike
Oakland teachers are seen striking on Thursday. (KRON4 image/ Michael Thomas)

Students are encouraged to join the picket lines, the Oakland Education Association union said. “A strike is most powerful when students do not attend school because this puts pressure on the district to negotiate with teachers,” the union stated.

The school district said all schools will remain open and students are expected to attend school, even though their teaches are not in the classrooms. Student who do not attend school will be marked with an “excused absence” that does not count toward truancy.

“We know a strike isn’t easy for our students and their families, but OUSD’s bad faith negotiation continues to deny our students smaller classrooms, access to counselors, mental health support and other enhanced services,” the union wrote.

The strike, dubbed Unfair Labor Practice strike, was triggered by a “confusing” formal proposal submitted by the district to the union earlier this week, the union said. The lackluster proposal was “far from comprehensive,” and proved to be the last straw for teachers, according to OEA.

Many parents are now wondering, how long will the strike last? “The length of the strike will depend on how long we have to wait for OUSD to take its obligation to bargain with us seriously,” the union wrote.

The Oakland Education Association union represents nearly 3,000 K-12 teachers, counselors, psychologists, social workers, early childhood educators, nurses, and librarians. Oakland teachers receive the lowest pay in the Bay Area, according to OEA.

The union wrote, “We are incredibly disappointed in this district that we are at this point. We should have settled this contract months ago. But the district’s continued refusal to partner in good faith with our frontline team of educators to do what’s best for our students has left us with no choice. This morning, after four days of conversations with the district, we finally received a formal written proposal that was incomplete, confusing, and far from comprehensive.”

“We finished submitting all of our proposals to the district in January. Our big bargaining team has poured its heart and soul into this work, spending hundreds of hours preparing and negotiating, talking with our coworkers, sending out surveys to our coworkers and families, and researching extensively. And then we waited. And waited. And waited,” the union wrote.

“We can’t wait, our students can’t wait, and our schools can’t wait any longer. Our district is in crisis — educators are leaving, our special education students aren’t receiving what they need, and our students, who have been through so much over the past few years, are not getting the support they deserve,” the union wrote.

Dozens of union leaders said they waited all day Wednesday for district officials to sit down at a bargaining table with them, but the meeting never happened.

State Superintendent Stepping In

State Superintendent Tony Thurmond announced Thursday that he invited both sides in the strike — Oakland Unified School District administrators and Oakland Education Association union leaders — to come to a table where Thurmond and his team will formally mediate negotiations to end the strike.

Thurmond and his team extended the invitation to begin mediation immediately.

Thurmond and his team said they will arrange for meeting space and logistics and will provide a framework for discussion and staff to lead, facilitate, and mediate discussions between the parties.

“We are disappointed that the parties could not find an agreement in time to avert a strike. We observed how hard both sides worked and will start immediately working with the parties in a formal mediation capacity. Our goal is to help the parties reach an agreement and to end the strike so that students can return to class as quickly as possible,” Thurmond said.

In a 2019 strike, Thurmond was asked by both sides in the matter to mediate the strike after the sides reached an impasse. Thurmond and his team mediated a process for ending the 2019 strike and reaching an agreement.

Teachers Union’s Proposals

Here are some of the proposals pitched by Oakland Education Association to be included in a new contract:

  1. Common Good Proposal
  • Expand and improve full-service Community Schools
  • Increase support for unhoused students
  • Cut excessive central office administrators before closing schools

2. Special Education Proposal

  • Hard caps for special education classes/improved caseloads
  • Protect and expand preparation time for special educators
  • Strengthen student-family-school relationships

3. School Psychologists Proposal

  • Provide school psychologists with private workspaces to respect student confidentiality
  • Increase the number of school psychologists serving our students

4. Compensation Proposal

  • 22.97% raise for all members, in order to reach the median Alameda County
    compensation for educators
  • Eliminate “pay plateaus” where members wait years without receiving a step increase

5. Compensation Proposal

  • 4.5% raise for OEA members
  • Eliminate “pay plateaus”