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On the picket line

April 14, 2006 | Page 11

Oakland teachers
By Jessie Muldoon

OAKLAND, Calif.--Approximately 600 teachers and supporters of the Oakland Education Association (OEA) rallied and marched here April 5. OEA members have been without a contract for two years, and have set a one-day strike for April 20.

Members were spirited and angry, and turned out wearing their union T-shirts and ribbons in neon green.

The rally started at City Hall, and then marched to the State Building to protest the state of California's takeover of the Oakland schools. Later, marchers headed towards the headquarters of Kaiser Permanente to protest the rising costs of health care.

Health care continues to be at the center of this contract battle. OEA members have had a pay cut, have lost work days and are now being threatened with health care caps that would limit the contribution that the district makes to health care and force individual members to cover any rate hikes. This would hit families the hardest, and be equivalent to an ongoing pay cut.

Also at stake is elementary enrichment. Currently, elementary teachers are relieved for 50 minutes once a week to have another teacher provide "enrichment," usually art or music. While the two sides appear to be coming closer on this issue, it is still a cutback from the previous contract, assuring elementary teachers two 50-minute staffed prep periods.

Other unresolved issues include the counselor-to-student ratio. Counselors are becoming an endangered species in many public school districts, as are librarians and nurses.

Salary talks have moved closer. Despite the fact that the union correctly maintains that any restoration of a pervious 4 percent pay cut is not a raise, the district insists on presenting it as such, in addition to seeking to weaken teacher transfer and seniority rights.

Public support for the teachers and the strike is already growing. Parent organizations are committing to keeping their children at home on the day of the strike, while neighborhood shops, bus stops, and many cars are displaying "I support Oakland teachers" signs in multiple languages.

OEA members will be working in the union office the week of April 10-14, during spring break, to prepare for the strike. But the District is preparing, too--by planning to train scab teachers to take OEA members' jobs. Pickets are planned for these training sessions.

If the one-day strike doesn't force the district back to the negotiating table, then further actions will be planned. The OEA is at the front of fighting against the attack on public education, and in defense of quality health care for all of its members.

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