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Antonucci: Oakland teachers are set to strike, and just like L.A., a ‘leap of faith’ will be needed to end it

Mike Antonucci | February 20, 2019

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Mike Antonucci’s Union Report appears weekly at LA School Report.

A day after a state fact-finding panel released its report, the Oakland Education Association announced a strike date of Feb. 21.

On its face, this seems strange. The union released a press statement with the headline “Factfinding Recommendations Endorse OEA’s Bargaining Positions.” The district released a statement that said, “We believe the recommendations in the report provide ideas that will facilitate the parties reaching a fair contract and avoiding the harm a strike would cause our school communities.”

That sounds like the basis for continued bargaining, but there is one sticking point where the fact-finder didn’t please the union: salaries.

OEA is demanding a cumulative raise of 12 percent over the three years of the contract. The district is offering 5 percent.

The two sides still have differences over class sizes, charter schools and a handful of smaller issues. Panel chair Najeeb Khoury appears to have made progress on bridging those gaps. But his proposal for salaries will sound familiar to those who followed the Los Angeles teacher strike, or recently negotiated contracts for other school employees across the state.

“It is clear that OUSD’s proposal of a 5% raise over three years will not keep pace with
inflation,” Khoury wrote. “It is also clear that OUSD will have a very difficult time affording a 12% raise over three years, as it is in a structural deficit.”

His solution? “I am recommending a 3% raise for 17-18, a 3% raise for 18-19 and an economic reopener for 19-20,” he wrote. Those numbers are similar to the settlement in L.A. and in other areas of the state.

Roy Combs, the district’s panel member from the firm of Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost, concurred with the recommendation. Charles King, the union’s panel member from the California Teachers Association, was much less enthusiastic. He dissented, suggesting instead an 11 percent increase over three years.

King also wanted the district to “work with its employees to design ways to encourage the repatronage of students and families who have chosen other educational options.”

Despite the positive tone both sides took regarding the report, OEA’s public communications left no doubt that the union was in strike mode.

“Billionaires have been in control of our district for too long, leading to year after year of draconian budget cuts, a plan to close 24 neighborhood schools in Black and Brown communities, and the largest and least credible school district bureaucracy in California,” wrote Keith Brown, president of OEA.

Although the money gap between the two sides is larger than was the case in L.A., there are indications that the same method — “the leap of faith” — will be used to close it. Khoury said he tried to “encourage the parties to see that much of their fight lies at the state capitol and not with each other.”

The easy way out is for both sides to get what they want: for the union, a large salary increase, and for the district, relief from the responsibility for finding the money to pay for it. Imaginary money will save the day again.

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