OAKLAND — Teachers returned to their classrooms Monday after seven days of strikes resulted in the approval of a tentative contract between the school district and the Oakland Education Association.
Thousands of teachers and students filled the streets to demand smaller class sizes, additional school resources and a living wage for educators on Feb. 21.
The new contract reduces class sizes, provides an 11-percent ongoing salary increase with a one-time 3-percent bonus, according to an Oakland Unified School District press release.
“Our teachers are the core of everything we do as a school district, and we are pleased to have reached a tentative agreement that shows them how valuable they are,” OUSD Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammel said in a press statement. “The contract will help ensure more teachers stay in Oakland and that more come to teach in our classrooms and support our students”.
Service Employees International Union participated in a sympathy strike out of solidarity with Oakland teachers. The union includes a diverse group of members who work to make schools and cities better for the community.
Antonio Brooks is an instructional support specialist for SEIU as well as a teacher at Lafayette Elementary School. For Brooks, participating in the strike was monumental.
“I’m a part of history,” he said. “It’s an overwhelming feeling of joy to see everybody here together.”
Teachers chose many different reasons to participate in the strike. OUSD experiences high teacher turnover each year. West Oakland middle school teacher Jazmine Njissang said she didn’t want to be part of that statistic.
According to a fact sheet by OUSD, there is a total of 2,319 teachers in the district, of that total 46.8 percent are white and 21.4 percent are African-American.
“I’m Black, 26, and I was a math major,” Njissang said. “I’m a teacher who is from here and I’m trying to stay where the kids need to see people who look like them and know what they’ve gone through.”
The labor agreement came after teachers and students spent a week gathering in front of picket lines, even in inclement weather, to support the strike.
For teachers such as Zach Bell, a sixth-grade math teacher at Oakland School of Language, choosing to strike meant sacrificing his paycheck.
The starting salary for teachers in Oakland is $46,570. This is around a $16,000 difference compared to the starting salaries for kindergarten teachers in Scarsdale, New York, who can earn $62,600.
And when compared to teachers in Nantucket, Massachusetts, where the starting salary is $73,000, the difference is around $27,000.
“We’re not making money,” Bell said. “I’ve probably lost around $1,000. It’s expensive to live in the Bay Area — $1,000 is no joke.”
The lack of a sustainable wage is also causing some teachers to live paycheck-to-paycheck, according to Brooks.
“If I were to miss $50 off my check, that would hurt me bad,” Brooks said. “We have people who are homeless and they’re still working. We have people that live in tents, trailers, living in rooms and they’re still working.
“It’s hard to find a place out here,” he added. “Most of us have second jobs.”
Global Family Elementary School teacher Gretchen Bailey said the strike strengthened the bond between her and her co-workers.
“We’ve really bonded. While we were on the line, we’re sharing stories, talking about our families,” Bailey said. “I feel like I know [our]
teachers better now than I did a week ago and I’ve been at that school site for 21 years.”
Bailey attended the last day of the strike and said she hopes some of the positive support the teachers received will generate even more change.
“I feel it, and I hope there’s change,” she said. “I really do, not just here in Oakland but across the country.”