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Oakland Teachers Cast Strike Votes By SUZANNE LA BARRE

Friday March 24, 2006

Oakland teachers are one step closer to going on strike. 

Members of the Oakland Education Association (OEA) voted 1,054 to 330 to authorize a strike Wednesday. The vote does not mean teachers will walk out right away, it merely enables union representatives to call a strike or sit-in with 48 hours notice. 

OEA President Ben Visnick anticipates a strike will take place only if contract negotiations fail to move forward.  

The 3,100-member union has been negotiating with the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) over teacher contracts for two years. Talks stalled earlier this year but resumed last week, and both sides agree significant progress has been made. 

The sides are close to consensus over salary, long a bone of contention in a school district where the average teacher pay is $53,000 a year. The district is offering a 5.5 percent raise over three years; the union wants 6.5 percent. 

“But the main issues remain unresolved,” Visnick said Wednesday, namely healthcare and preparation periods.  

The union is demanding that employees pay no more than a half a percent for healthcare premiums. It also wants the district to offer more time for teachers to prepare for classes. 

The district’s latest proposal, officially submitted Tuesday, offers a shared-cost healthcare plan that would require employees to split half the cost of future premium increases. Earlier this month, the district was proposing a cap on healthcare. 

As for their other main concern, OUSD spokesperson Alex Katz said the district doesn’t want to ban prep periods, it just wants to leave them up to school sites.  

At press time, talks were ongoing. 

In the event of a strike, the district plans to keep schools open, Katz said.  

“A strike is the last thing anyone wants, but this is an educational institution so our legal and moral responsibility is to educate our students in the event of a strike,” he said. 

Between 800 and 1,000 substitute teachers have submitted applications to replace potential strikers, he said. They would earn $300 a day. Substitutes typically earn $110 a day. 

Oakland’s classified employees are also battling the district over salary and healthcare. Representatives staged a rally in front of district offices Wednesday to demand fair contracts.