Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

A Conversation with Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez

Tuesday, October 1st, 2019

Title: A Conversation with Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez
Location: Laborers 261 ~ 3271 18th St, SF
Link out: Click here
Start Time: 11:15
Date: 2019-10-04

Labor Unions Are for Safety and Creativity

Wednesday, September 18th, 2019

Amy Laura Hall September 13, 2019

Hands in Solidarity, Hands of Freedom
Terence Faircloth

I do not go around asking people if they believe in God. But I frequently ask people if they believe in labor unions. I am genuinely curious about how people around me think about collective bargaining in workplaces. How do people who work for a living, or who have at some point worked for a living (meaning most of us) think about people being courageous, together, for the sake of the integrity of their work or the safety of their work or the dignity of their lives at work? Several men working for the fire department recently said, loud enough for people coming out of the grocery store to hear, “Oh, yes ma’am, we sure do need our union.” In a hotel elevator this summer, a man, carrying a poster noting his retirement as an airline pilot, said he is clear that people working in the industry, at all levels, need labor unions. He said it was a basic matter of safety.

This is one very obvious reason why everyone who walks around in the world needs labor unions. If you drive in a car, you want the people who put your car together to have the ability to stop production if they notice something is awry. If you ride around on one of those rent-by-the-day scooters, you want the people who put the scooter together to have been able to take the time to test whether or not the scooter is safe to scoot. (Same for the people who put together the helmet you should be wearing if you are scooting. Just saying.) People who work for the fire department need equipment that allows them to put out the fire safely and quickly if, by chance, you have overestimated your oven’s ability to be “self-cleaning.” (A real, and embarrassing, example.) Look up the cover of “The Berenstain Bears: Jobs Around Town” and tell me a job that Jan and Stan Berenstain feature that does not need a labor union? The man on the girder being lifted by a crane needs the person pulling the lever to be able to call in sick if necessary. The woman selling hot dogs does not want to sell Sister Bear a dog with, well…actual dog under the relish. The bear walking across the bridge with what appears to be a giant pumpkin relies on the fact that the bears who built the bridge had time off to eat lunches and sleep. And the bear with the pink shirt, up in the corner, painting on a canvas? They need a labor union, too.

This is one of the trickiest concepts for some people to grasp. Labor unions are about our safety as people living together in a town or city, and they are also about creativity. As a writer and a teacher, I need the committed, active support of other writers and teachers in order to write and to teach in my own unique, best, way. While I was a graduate student, collective bargaining allowed me to write what turned out to be a damn good dissertation (and eventually a book) without worrying that my adviser would punish me for writing something very different than what he had published. I needed the courage in common that was collective bargaining to formulate my own particular and singular way of thinking. Actors, photographers, journalists, sculptors—all have expressed a similar sense that labor unions allow for individual freedom in their craft. If you want to hear what music sounds like without labor unions, turn on your canned radio station and hear the same pop song every two hours, interspersed with a few others deemed by someone in marketing to meet the least common denominator of music. Alternatively, find the alternative station in the genre that helps you through your own workday, and consider periodically the teamwork behind the scenes that allowed those musicians to defy what some person in the number-crunching department determined would be passable as music.

There are no doubt some people in this world who manage to be remarkably creative without labor unions and the collective bargaining that comes with courage. I am frankly worn out from trying. I need a union as much as people putting out fires and people putting airplanes together. My labor is also important, and so I will keep asking people about their unions and their ideas about unions. And I will keep trying to find the best, most creative and unique ways to explain why I need a team.

Amy Laura Hall has taught ethics at Duke University since 1999. Her most recent book is Laughing at the Devil: Seeing the World with Julian of Norwich. This post originally appeared at the North Carolina State AFL-CIO.

Pathway to Progress: The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

Friday, September 13th, 2019

Kenneth Quinnell September 6, 2019

Rustin and Cleveland Robinson
Wikimedia Commons

History has long been portrayed as a series of “great men” taking great action to shape the world we live in. In recent decades, however, social historians have focused more on looking at history “from the bottom up,” studying the vital role that working people played in our heritage. Working people built, and continue to build, the United States. In our new series, Pathway to Progress, we’ll take a look at various people, places and events where working people played a key role in the progress our country has made, including those who are making history right now. Today’s topic is the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

We recently marked the 56th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The full title makes it clear that the historical touchstone was about civil rights and worker rights. And the labor movement was key to the success of the march.

By any account, the march on Aug. 28, 1963, was a success. More than 250,000 people participated in what was then the largest demonstration for human rights in U.S. history. The pathway that led to the march started much earlier.

A. Philip Randolph, a leader in both the civil rights movement and a labor organizer with the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, began pushing for a march on Washington as early as 1941. Randolph, labor activist Bayard Rustin and others nearly pulled off a march that year, but it was called off late in the organizing. From then until late 1962, Randolph got little response from civil rights leaders. Changing this would be a key to pulling the march off. He worked with the heads of the “Big Six” civil rights organizations, which included not only Randolph’s Sleeping Car Porters, but also the NAACP, the National Urban League, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Conference of Racial Equality and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

That began to change once Randolph and Rustin got together to plan a march commemorating the centennial of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. In early 1963, Bull Connor became national news when he turned fire hoses and attack dogs on children and then attitudes about the march quickly changed. Rustin was to originally direct operations for the march, but when some activists balked at having a homosexual man as the face of the march, he was replaced by Randolph.

Rustin continued to organize the event, however, and leading up to the march, they faced tough challenges, including bringing together civil rights leaders, defending against attacks from segregationists, moderates who wanted a slower approach to progress and the logistics of the largest peaceful protest in the country’s history. 

The influence of Randolph and Rustin on the agenda of the march was obvious. Among the list of demands the marchers presented were: a massive federal jobs and training program for unemployed workers, a national minimum wage that provided for a decent standard of living, an expansion of the Fair Labor Standards Act to include all areas of labor and a federal Fair Employment Practices Act barring discrimination in government hiring at all levels.

Labor’s influence on the march wasn’t limited to leadership. The UAW provided much of the funding for the march. Randolph’s Sleeping Car Porters helped transport thousands of demonstrators to and from the event. And many unions participated in the march, either officially or unofficially, as their members joined the cause.

One of the most important and memorable events in American history was not only a civil rights event, but from beginning to end, a demonstration on behalf of working people. We face many of the same issues in our current political climate, and the efforts that led to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom provide us with inspiration to continue building an America where all working people can thrive.

Affiliate in the Spotlight: Sign & Display 510

Thursday, August 15th, 2019

Meet Sign & Display Local 510

Who We Are
Local 510 represents Bay Area Trade Show and Convention Installers and Exhibit Builders, as well as Outdoor and Commercial Sign Painters and Pictorial workers and our local has existed since March 10, 1900. Our jurisdiction covers Northern California, and we are a part of District Council 36 of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.

Local 510’s membership numbers approximately 800 workers. Our local provides labor for more than 60 contractors in the Greater Bay Area. We are proud to have a California State affiliated Apprenticeship program and currently have 150 Apprentices.

What We Do
We have contracts to do the following kinds of work in the Greater Bay Area:

Trade Shows, Conventions, Meetings, and Special Events:
Installation and Dismantle: Floor coverings, furniture, signage & graphics, modular room assembly, custom booth work, sign hanging, and the fabrication of custom exhibits & displays. Local 510 handles interior and exterior temporary and permanent graphic installations.  We are proud to be doing signage at San Francisco’s new home to the Golden State Warriors, the Chase Arena.

Transit Sign Work
Local 510 has two contracts to handle advertising posters and graphics for buses and  transit stations.

Robert Collins, president, swears in new officers, Annette Dosier and Morgan Worth

A Change in Leadership
Local 510 recently elected two new Business Representative: Morgan Worth and Annette Dosier. Peter Forni continues his work as Field representative/Dispatcher and Joe Toback and Owen Murphy are assisting in the leadership transition.

Our Goals
Our goals focus on training, enhancing quality of life, maintaining a model of workplace respect, and to work to improve conditions with our local communities. We are proud to be a part of the greater Labor Movement and are active in our memberships in Central Labor and Building Trades Councils.

Why Young Workers Are Embracing Labor Unions

Monday, July 8th, 2019

Millennials are more pro-union than generations before

In March 2019, the editorial staff at Gimlet Media became the first podcasting company to unionize when they joined the Writers Guild of America. The announcement came just a month after Gimlet was acquired by Spotify in a $230 million dollar deal.

Unionizing has been notoriously difficult for tech companies, according to Fast Company, but it could be the beginning of an industry-wide shift.

And the Gimlet workers’ move is evidence that labor organizing isn’t a thing of the past. The Center for Economic Policy and Research reported that 75 percent of new union members are under the age of 35.

Will younger generations of workers lead a resurgence of organized labor?

Fresh energy

Whitney Yax has been working for the labor movement for more than six years. In her role as an organizer for Communications Workers of America District 1, which represents 150,000 members in the Northeast, she helps new members get involved in their unions.

She has noticed an increase in younger members, and in younger members’ desire to be active participants. They’re phone banking or knocking on doors to garner support for a political candidate, organizing meetings with industry leaders, or gathering signatures on a petition. This is on-brand for millennials, who typically value experiences over stuff.

Illustration of construction workers hand in hand in the city. Labor Unions pbs rewireCredit: Adobe
Whether or not unions can adapt quickly enough will determine if they grow in the next generation.

“I always think of unions as offering a voice, a role in decision-making at work,” Yax said.

Millennials are more supportive of labor unions than generations before them. A 2018 Gallup poll showed that 66 percent of people ages 18 to 34 approve of labor unions, compared to 60 percent of people ages 35 to 54 and 62 percent of people ages 55 and older.

But unions have a long way to go when it comes to finding the right set of benefits that will encourage membership among millennials, said Zane Dalal, executive vice president of the union benefits administrator BPA.

“Millennials are incredibly adaptable, and people think of them as this sort of vague group, yet they are activists, and they’re incredibly sure of what they want,” he said.

Unions’ influence often extend beyond their membership, Yax said. The opportunity to effect change is attractive to young workers.

“I believe very strongly that unions, individually and collectively, just by their existence, improve the situation for workers that are non-union,” she said.

For example, unions were instrumental in raising the minimum wage in New York, which benefited all minimum wage workers, not just the unionized ones, Yax said.

“The action that union members take can have a great effect on other people,” she said.

A ‘match made in heaven’?

Knowing that our work and financial lives will be much different than what our parents experienced, millennials have been forced to adapt. In many cases, adapting has meant piecing together side gigs and extra jobs. It’s easy to feel alone in the gig economy, or even feel in competition with your fellow workers.

“The human element is diminishing,  and it shows in the way that people want to pay their workers,” Dalal said.

He believes “unions might bring back that personal side” to employment.

We millennials can be both disdainful of being forced to go it alone, and oddly proud of our hustle. Joining a union means embracing solidarity and leaving that pride behind, which can be especially hard when you’re raised on a strict diet of American individualism.

Yet, as we try to find a path to retirement, millennials and unions have been called a “match made in heaven” by the California Labor Federation.

“Some may think that unions are a thing of the past, but as reports pile up on how young workers are going to need to work themselves into exhaustion just to put food on the table, joining a union remains the best way  for millennials to reap the kind of economic security their parents and grandparents had,” Alexandra Catsoulis wrote for the California Labor Federation.

‘A barrier for younger people’

Union membership peaked in 1970 and has been declining ever since. Whether or not unions can adapt quickly enough will determine if they grow in the next generation, Dalal said.

“There was a heyday of the labor movement, and many of the people who were part of it are still involved, in roles of leadership now,” Yax said.

Millennials have a unique opportunity to contribute to labor unions and, in turn, contribute to change in many sectors. There are issues specific to this age group and this cultural moment that unions could address if young folks pushed for it, Dalal said.

Unions could advocate for student loan repayment policies, as our collective debt continues climbing. They could also become involved in the opioid crisis, he said, pushing for recovery support.

But there’s a sentiment that younger generations don’t want to get involved.

“The language of people who are driving the conversation, they’re in their 70s and they’ll never ‘get’ millennial culture,” Dalal said.

It’s hard to sit in meetings as a young person and hear about how millennials don’t care, Yax said. In fact, it’s “a barrier for younger people to get involved.”

Even so, “I really think we could have another heyday very soon,” she said.

A Powerful 1st Person Account of the Issues at the Border from USF Law Professor Bill Ong Hing and ILRC

Friday, June 28th, 2019

You may have read any number of stories recently about the conditions at Border Patrol immigrant youth detention centers. I was there and you need to know what I saw. I don’t often reach out to you directly, but I felt that it was important for you to understand what is happening in the name of border protection.

As a part of a recent Flores* inspection team, I was allowed to interview immigrant youth detained at a border patrol processing facility in Clint, Texas. After three days of detailed conversations with many detainees, I left feeling disgusted and appalled.

I had conversations with several teen mothers with infants as young as five months old. I also had individual conversations with five- and eight-year-old boys and three sets of siblings—a 14-year-old girl and her 10-year-old brother; brothers, ages 12 and four; and another sister and brother, ages 15 and 13. Several cried as they talked about the conditions and missing their parents. They cried, I teared up. However, I cried hard two times while observing children across the room being interviewed by other team members. Once when a six-year-old girl, who was in the detention center alone, began crying. I learned that she had been separated from an aunt at the border by CBP officials days earlier. As she cried in the middle of the interview, the attorney working with her took the girl by the hand and walked over to a teenaged detainee who was holding a two-year-old. It turned out that the teen girl—who was not a mother or a relative—had been comforting the toddler and the six-year old for days out of a sense of sympathy.

Minors are not supposed to be held by border patrol officials for more than 72 hours, but we met many children who had been detained for two to three weeks. Over 350 children were detained at the Clint facility when we visited. I can tell you that I witnessed that many of the children were unbathed and dirty. Their clothes reeked; their hair unwashed. Children as young as three- and four-years old had been separated from a parent, aunt, or uncle at the border. They were housed in cramped rooms with older children—some of whom cared for the younger children out of kindness. Many of the children had the flu. Two infants were so sick (vomiting, fever, chills, diarrhea) that they were rushed to the hospital for emergency care. Everyone received the same meals day after day that contained no vegetables or fruits. The meals were no different for nursing mothers. Some children reported that they were allowed to go outside and play daily for about 30 minutes; others said they were allowed to go outside only every two or three days.

The declarations of minors collected by myself and others on the inspection team are being used in a motion for a temporary restraining order to close down the facility. The ILRC believes that all immigrants deserve to keep their dignity, humanity, physical and mental wellbeing, and families throughout the immigration process. As supporters and advocates of our work, it is our responsibility to shine a light on the reality of immigration detention. These children are more than statistics. They are fragile humans seeking a better life. The ILRC will continue to educate practitioners on how to best defend their clients, provide resources for communities to know their rights, and advocate for just policies that protect all immigrants.

Bill Ong Hing
Founder and General Counsel, Immigrant Legal Resource Center
Professor of Law and Migration Studies, USF

Affiliate in the Spotlight: IATSE 16

Wednesday, June 19th, 2019

Meet the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists & Allied Crafts Local 16

MISSION: To represent workers in the entertainment business, including film, television, theatre, concerts, and conventions.

CURRENT LEADERSHIP OF UNION: Steve Lutge – Business Agent

MEMBERS WORK AS: Our members work as stage electricians, carpenters and riggers; audio and video technicians, camera operator, video engineers; film and television technicians; special effects technicians.

INDUSTRIES REPRESENTED: Theatre, conventions, concerts, film, television, commercials.

HISTORY: Local 16 received its charter in 1894, 125 years ago. Since the birth of our organization over 125 years ago, IATSE stagehands and movie operators have been joined by a great variety of other crafts. Technicians and artists in motion picture and television production, product demonstration and industrial shows, conventions, facility maintenance, audio visual presentation, and motion picture computer graphics, to name a few, have all banded together to achieve the maximum unified strength possible.

CURRENT CAMPAIGNS: Chase Arena in Mission Bay, Film Production in Northern California

COMMUNITY EFFORTS: Participating in several Labor Councils in the Bay Area, Rebuild Together, Laguna Honda Holiday Party, outreach to local schools in San Francisco, ARIA Opera program at local schools in San Francisco.


SOMETHING COOL ABOUT YOUR  UNION THAT NOT TOO MANY PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT: Our members are extremely talented; many have received Oscar, Emmy and Grammy awards.


Why Kaiser Mental Health Clinicians Set a June 11 Strike Date

Friday, June 7th, 2019

JUNE 2ND, 2019

Click the image for picket line dates and locations.

National Union of Healthcare Workers Prepare to Strike for Patient Safety

Four thousand Kaiser Permanente mental health clinicians and health care professionals are set to begin an open-ended strike on June 11, all across California.

For the past decade, Kaiser psychologists, therapists, social workers and psychiatric nurses have been pushing management to fix its badly broken mental health system, which forces patients to wait weeks and even months for care. And caregivers are committed to working around the clock over the next 10 days to find immediate solutions to address this crisis without a strike.

But the situation at Kaiser has become untenable for both patients and clinicians.

Last Tuesday, Kirstin Quinn Siegel, a Kaiser therapist, told Berkeley council members that she had a patient in one of her group sessions who recently had to defend her three children from an intruder in their home.

“She’s clearly in distress,” Quinn Siegel told council members. “Her next appointment with an individual therapist is in July.”

Wait times are even longer in Southern California.

Tanya Veluz, a Kaiser therapist in Pasadena, told USC Annenberg Media in April that her patients have to wait three months for an appointment even if they’ve lost a loved one or have bi-polar disorder.

“It’s extremely disheartening to sit there and tell someone you can’t see them — And you watch them not getting better,” she said. “We do everything possible. We stay late, we call patients, we try, but definitely it’s heartbreaking and burns people out.”

Kaiser mental health clinicians sounded the alarm in December with a five-day strike. But Kaiser still refused to address the problem. Now appointment wait times are longer than ever.

While we have seen some movement from Kaiser during recent negotiations, Kaiser’s most recent proposals won’t stem the crisis.

  • Kaiser’s proposal to add clinicians dedicated to doing intake appointments would help it meet regulatory requirements for treating new patients, but wait times for return appointments would grow even longer. Dedicated intake specialists would bring in more new patients faster, but Kaiser has no plan to increase staffing as needed to provide these patients with reliable and consistent ongoing care.
  • Adding appointment clerks won’t keep clinicians from having to use their lunch time and evenings — all without pay — to squeeze in calls to desperate patients who can’t be seen. These clerks won’t have the clinical training to know when patients need urgent attention and should go straight to the front of the line. Clinicians never asked for appointment clerks because they knew it would just create one more bureaucratic obstacle for patients trying to connect with qualified caregivers.
  • Kaiser is struggling to hire full-time therapists willing to accept its relentless working conditions. It surely won’t be able to hire enough temporary clinicians, as Kaiser proposes, to significantly increase appointment availability in a system that staffs just one full-time equivalent therapist for every 3,000 Kaiser members.
  • Kaiser’s under-staffing of its mental health clinics won’t be alleviated by Kaiser’s proposal to dedicate more recruiters to fill those jobs. It can only be alleviated by Kaiser budgeting for more positions and improving working conditions to reduce turnover.

Clinicians have proposed real solutions that are focused on improving access to care.

  • We are proposing a requirement that Kaiser must hire new clinicians to fill its newly-constructed office spaces. This would avoid a repeat of what happened this year in Fairfield, where Kaiser built new office space for 38 mental health clinicians but didn’t hire any new staff.
  • We are proposing that Kaiser establish crisis teams at all locations, so new patients in crisis can get the care they need without clinicians having to cancel appointments with their current patients.
  • We are proposing that clinicians be given the right to convert appointment slots that have been set aside for new patients to serve returning patients who need immediate care.
  • We are proposing that clinicians get 20 percent of their time to meet patient care responsibilities that include answering email messages from patients, calling patients in need, charting, and communicating with a patient’s relatives or social service representatives. This work, which is critical to ensure the effectiveness of patients’ treatment, is often done during lunch breaks and after-hours, which leads to burnout and clinicians leaving for other jobs.
  • We are proposing a formalized, focused, and facilitated committee process in which labor and management would work together to expedite development and implementation of systemic reforms to address Kaiser’s mental health crisis. Management instead wants only a loose committee process with no structure, no timelines, and no accountability to reach solutions to Kaiser’s pressing problems.

Now, as before, when it comes to mental health care, Kaiser’s proposed “solutions” never get to the root of the problem, and often serve to obscure it.

  • Kaiser touts its newly constructed clinics, but never mentions that it primarily staffs them with its existing workforce.
  • Kaiser touts hiring hundreds of new clinicians without mentioning that at the same time, many over-burdened clinicians are leaving and tens of thousands of new members members are enrolling, so that staffing ratios stay fundamentally the same.
  • Kaiser touts its tele-psychiatry program without mentioning that telephone intake assessments are far shorter and less thorough than the face-to-face assessments it used to provide.
  • Kaiser claims a statewide shortage of mental health clinicians impedes it from improving care, but never mentions that it is undercutting its own recruiting efforts by denying mental health clinicians the same raises given to every other unionized employee and singling out many recently hired mental health clinicians by eliminating their pension benefits, while all other Kaiser employees still receive them.
  • Kaiser’s mental health “innovations” are really shortcuts. Its initiatives are too often geared toward improving its image rather than its mental health care. Now, its clinicians and patients are at a breaking point.

This is a problem we need to fix now. Patients and clinicians have waited long enough.

5 Reasons the CA Legislature Must Say Yes on AB 5

Thursday, April 4th, 2019

In last April’s landmark, unanimous California Supreme Court ruling in the Dynamex case, the court delivered one of the most pro-worker decisions in decades, enshrining a simple A-B-C test that employers must comply with to designate workers as “independent contractors.” The ruling was made necessary by the growing trend of corporations calling workers contractors just so they wouldn’t be on the hook to provide basic protections like unemployment insurance or workers’ compensation. This scheme has workers across many industries living on the edge and is costing taxpayers billions each year.

In response to the ruling, Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez introduced AB 5, a bill that would codify this important decision into law and clarify it to provide certainty to employers and workers alike.

Here are 5 reasons the California legislature must say Yes on AB 5:

All workers deserve basic job protections

Imagine coming to work every day knowing that if you’re injured on the job or laid off, you will be denied the basic protections all other workers receive. That’s the reality for hundreds of thousands of workers in construction, trucking, health care, gig work and many other industries. Oh, and the boss doesn’t even have to pay you a minimum wage. These workers are treated as second class, not by choice, but because their employers illegally classify them as “independent contractors” even though there’s nothing independent about their jobs.

Taxpayers are on the hook when corporations cheat workers

When companies cheat workers out of basic protections, it hurts us all. The laid off worker with no unemployment insurance is forced to rely on government assistance to put food on the table in between jobs. The injured worker without workers’ comp or health insurance can’t see a family doctor – instead he or she goes to the ER. If you’re not earning a minimum wage, good luck supporting a family on your meager income, even if you have two or three side hustles. The bottom line: Worker misclassification costs the state $7 billion annually, a tab that taxpayers are forced to pay.

AB 5 provides certainty and clarity for workers and employers

As with any court decision, Dynamex didn’t answer every question in the complicated issue of determining employee status versus being designated an independent contractor. As a result, AB 5 provides an opportunity to clarify the decision so that there’s no uncertainty. By codifying the simple A-B-C test that employers must use to determine independent contractor status, AB 5 provides all businesses with an easy-to-comply-with test. The bill also makes clear that a number of professions are not covered under Dynamex or AB 5, such as emergency room doctors, insurance agents and financial advisors and others.

If you’re truly your own boss, AB 5 doesn’t apply

There’s always going to be a need for businesses to use legitimate independent contractors. And we also recognize that some workers like being their own boss. AB 5 respects these arrangements. What we can’t tolerate is working people who are performing the duties of an employee to be cheated out of a minimum wage, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, the right to form or a join a union and protection against discrimination.

The future of work starts now – workers need and deserve dignity and respect on the job

Many companies are building entire business models around cheating their workers. This trend is accelerating, threatening to erode the social contract and create more insecurity and instability in the future. AB 5 is a rare opportunity for California legislators to help shape the future of work while addressing terrible inequities that already exist. Giving working people dignity and respect on the job isn’t just necessary, it’s a moral imperative. By making AB 5 law, California can cement its position as the national leader on workers’ rights while offering much-needed relief to hundreds of thousands of workers living on the edge.



Thursday, February 28th, 2019


By David Bacon
Truthout Photoessay, 2/26/19

Teachers and students carry a banner from their school, Oakland Technical High School.

Students and parents have come out en masse to join the marches and picket lines of the ongoing teachers strike in Oakland, California. All say that they are trying to save the city’s public school system.

“This is a strike to save our district,” said Heath Madom, who’s taught 10th grade English for three years at Oakland Technical High School, which is referred to as “Tech” by educators and pupils. “Our Tech community is committed to saving public education. Twenty-four schools are on the chopping block. We could become like New Orleans, with no public schools and all charters, if this keeps going.”

Like other teacher strikes around the country, the Oakland conflict is fueled both by a determination to protect the public school system itself and by the crisis in funding that has led to huge classes and deteriorating conditions in the schools themselves. According to Madom and the Oakland Education Association, only 5 percent of the district’s 37,000 students have passed through their schools’ doors over the last three days – evidence of vehement parent and community support.

Parents, students and teachers all condemn the rise in class sizes. “My class is a catch-all, because all students have to take it, so class size is a huge issue,” said Rho Seidelman, who’s taught ethnic studies at Tech for three years. “There’s no tracking, which is great, because we have students from all backgrounds and previous schools. But it’s hard to build community among the students when there are so many. The contract says 32 is the limit, and I routinely have at least 33. Research shows that the best learning environment is in a class of 18, where students can really learn and build community. When students are absent and my class size goes down to 28 or 26, I’m really happy.”

Madom says most classes at Tech have 35-40 students, and the school, built for 1,800, has a student body of 2,000. “We only have two part-time nurses for 2,000 students, and they don’t have the time or resources to deal with all their medical problems. We have a beautiful library, but haven’t had a librarian for years. Our counselors have a caseload of 500 students apiece. If they saw every student, they would only be able to spend a few minutes with each,” Madom said. The hiring of more nurses, librarians and counselors is part of the strike demands of the union, the Oakland Education Association, which is affiliated with the National Education Association (NEA).

Teachers’ pay is also part of the strike demands. The union wants a 12 percent raise over 3 years, and the district is stuck at 7 percent with a bonus. “The only reason I can live in Oakland is because I live with a partner who has a good income,” Seidelman said. “What I make is not enough to live here. I’m still paying off my school loans, and rent takes up almost half my income. My job would clearly be improved if we won the demands of our strike, and I, and other teachers too, would be more likely to stay.”

“People here are struggling,” Madom added. “Some teachers are commuting long distances to get here. We had seven excellent teachers leave this year, including two English teachers with more than five years [of] experience.”

Prior to the strike, a state fact-finder’s report found that the teacher retention crisis in Oakland is worse than most other districts in the state, which the state attributes to substandard pay, the lowest among the Bay Area’s districts. The fact-finder also mandated reducing class sizes, especially for special education classes, and concluded that school privatization was hurting students.

Slating 24 schools for closure is part of the privatization regime, Madom argued, adding that the closures are hitting communities that have been historically underserved the hardest. “At the same time, the district has allowed charter schools to proliferate, which is a direct reason why enrollment has declined in public schools they now want to close,” Madom added. “Yet there’s no discussion of closing any of the charters.” Those charter schools already enroll 13,000 students in Oakland.

Seidelman said these priorities are part of a culture in Oakland that favors development to benefit the affluent. “If it was up to a popular vote, our community would support the strike’s demands overwhelmingly. But our community is not in control of the basic decisions in the city. The strike has exposed the political corruption in Oakland city politics. The terrible condition of our schools is a consequence of the policies imposed by business interests. The resources of the city go to gentrification, which benefits them, but not our communities. It’s true all over the country, which is why there are strikes now in so many places. It’s not just a problem of Oakland.”

But the national teachers’ strike wave is challenging those priorities. “It’s shifting the narrative on public education,” Madom said. “The charter industry has claimed that poor students don’t get the education they deserve because of poor teachers. Public school teachers haven’t been heard until now. We do need great teachers, but the problems of our schools aren’t due to individual teachers. The district for years hasn’t funded classrooms adequately, but the state also has grossly underfunded education. California has a massive amount of wealth. I can’t believe we’re living in one of the richest states in the country, and yet there’s no money for education. We’re tired of putting up with austerity. The strike wave is happening because teachers are standing up, and saying ‘enough is enough’.”

After talks broke down on February 24, sending the strike into its third day, Keith Brown, president of the Oakland Education Association, told reporters that the district had “returned to the table without a proposal that would begin to meet our core bargaining demands [which include an obligation to] fully fund our schools and provide a living wage to keep teachers in Oakland.”

Novelist Alice Walker was among many celebrities and political figures to rally behind the teachers. “You should be given, really, anything you ask for,” she said in a letter. “It is criminal that you are not. Especially when we see it is the war effort, more often than not, that is supported lavishly. An effort that often cuts short the very lives you have lovingly prepared to live with understanding and intelligence in this world. Know that you have sisters and brothers who stand with you, heart to heart.”

The majority of the following photographs were taken on the strike’s first day, February 21, when teachers, parents and students rallied in front of the Oakland City Hall, and then marched through downtown streets to the offices of the Oakland Unified School District.  All photos (c) David Bacon.

Keith Brown, president of the Oakland Education Association, and other teachers lead a march through downtown Oakland.

Teachers and community members support one of the strike’s demands – funding the district’s restorative justice program, an alternative to traditional school discipline.

Students, parents and teachers demonstrate support for the strike.

The strikers march behind their banner down Broadway, in downtown Oakland.

Liz Ortega, executive secretary of the Alameda Labor Council, behind the banner during the march.

Striking teachers during the march.

Teachers and community members march behind a banner opposing the closure of 24 schools, which targets schools in the Oakland flatlands, predominantly low-income communities of color.

A student shows her support for raising teachers’ salaries.

Students and parents sing, “Which side are you on?”

Teachers and community activists in a rally before the march.

Teachers with the basic demand of the strike – funding public schools.

Students and parents at the rally in front of Oakland City Hall.

Heath Madom talks with other teachers at a meeting in front of Oakland Technical High School.

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