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Contract included health care caps and other concessions
OEA members reject deal

By Jesse Muldoon, OEA | May 6, 2005 | Page 11

OAKLAND, Calif.--Members of the Oakland Education Association (OEA) members overwhelmingly rejected a concessionary contract last week. Almost 1,600 OEA members voted, with 1,310 against and just 259 in favor.

After more than a year of negotiations, the OEA and the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) reached a tentative agreement. The agreement included caps on health care, an increased counselor-to-student ratio, reduction of arts and other enrichment programs and reduced worker rights.

The vote occurred during the OEA's work-to-rule campaign, in which teachers and school employees worked to the letter of the contract. The campaign highlighted the huge amount of unpaid work that teachers do, often at home.

The vote also occurred in the context of a bitter fight against charter schools. The OUSD is using No Child Left Behind, the federal act that governs public education, as its launching pad to privatize and reconstitute schools.

The combination of these organizing efforts and the odious nature of the proposal itself brought OEA members out with a resounding "no" to the proposal. Many who campaigned against the proposal felt that now was not the time to settle. Parents and community members were supportive of the work-to-rule campaign, and to many, momentum was building to mount a fight.

"This contract is part of an assault on public education and teachers' unions in particular," said Tim Marshall, an elementary school teacher and OEA activist who helped lead the campaign against charter schools. "We can do better if we continue to mobilize community support for this contract fight, but also to defend public education."

The district may be willing to go back to the table and resume negotiations, but it's also possible that the union and/or the district request "fact finding," in which the OEA and OUSD work with a state-appointed fact finder to resolve the contract dispute.

Despite the trend in labor to accept concessionary contracts on the basis that the political and economic situation makes it impossible to do better, the OEA is drawing a line in the sand. The union plans to mobilize for a May 25 march on Sacramento to protest Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's policies, along with the California Nurses Association and other unions.

While the union is not officially discussing a strike at this point, every member that voted against the contract did so with a clear understanding that doing better would require a fight.

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