Union Sets Date for Oakland Teachers Strike By SUZANNE LA BARRE

Friday March 31, 2006

Oakland teachers will hold a one-day strike April 20 if contract talks fail to lead to a settlement, the union announced yesterday. 

“The school employees of this district do not want to strike, but we have to set a deadline. We have to send a message . . . that we want this contract settled,” said Ben Visnick, president of the Oakland Education Association, which represents 3,200 educators in the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD). 

For two years, the union has been engaged in a bitter fight with the school district over contract negotiations. Talks are currently stalled due to disagreements on healthcare and teacher prep time. 

Union members voted on March 22, 1,054 to 330, to authorize the strike. Visnick hopes setting a strike date will hasten the settlement process.  

At press time, no talks were scheduled, Visnick said. 

The union is urging district negotiators to follow a fact-finding report released in January that said the district can afford to pay for the union’s healthcare and preparation period requests. 

Currently, the union is pressing for a healthcare program where members contribute half a percent of their salaries toward insurance premiums. The district is offering to split the cost of future health benefit increases. 

The union is also asking for staffed elementary school teacher preparation time that’s paid for through the district’s general fund. The district wants to support those periods through school site categorical funds. 

Other union concerns include support of guidance counseling, substitute teacher pay and processes for transferring teachers to different schools in the district. 

District spokesperson Alex Katz said the district made significant strides toward meeting the union’s requests with an offer last week. The ball is in the union’s court to submit a counter-proposal, he said.  

“It’s sort of coming out of left field for them to announce a strike a month from now when we have a proposal on the table,” he said.  

If an agreement is not reached, the school district’s classified employees will unite with teachers in a walkout, Visnick said. Classified employees, including secretaries and security officers, are also waging war against the school district over contracts.  

Schools will have to close if this happens, Visnick said. 

Katz countered that the schools will stay open. 

Oakland teachers last went on strike in 1996. 

The union representing 6,000 San Francisco public school employees voted Wednesday to authorize a strike, calling into question the possibility of a joint Oakland-San Francisco strike.  

“Both unions would be stronger in their work action if we strike together,” Visnick said. “We hope it doesn’t come to that, but it is a possibility.”