School closures, health care coverage, student support staff are key issues
By Ken Epstein
The Oakland teachers’ union, the Oakland Education Association (OEA) , is calling on Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell “to immediately reverse decisions” that violate terms of the school district’s contract with teachers, including provisions that were ratified as part of the settlement of the seven-day teachers’ strike earlier this year.
“Rank and file members are concerned that they’re not respecting our contract,” said Brian Crowell, teacher and secretary of the OEA Grievance Committee.
“We’re not talking about a grievance here or there,” he said. “We’re talking about broad violations of the contract, our fundamental collective bargaining agreement.”
Crowell said that union members are now facing “retaliation and bullying by administrators,” which he believes reflects the district’s disrespect for educators.
Although the strike is over, Crowell said that the union is continuing to organize, fighting for its members and in the interests of the community. “Our loyalty is to the students and the community. That is our primary concern,” said Crowell, adding that another major union concern is school closures.
“That was a big issue during the strike and has not been resolved. There is a disputed question whether that is a (legitimate) area of bargaining, but it is something that has a huge impact on working conditions.”
The school board has voted to close or merge several schools in 2019 and is expected to close more school sites from a list of 24 over next several years.
“School closures disproportionately harm Black and Brown students,” said the OEA in a petition it is circulating to union members. “OUSD has shown no evidence that (closures) improve learning or save money…Reinvest in our public schools, (don’t) close them,” the petition said.
The document also claims that the district withheld “$9 million from the employee healthcare fund, despite a signed settlement agreement reached in September 2018.”
The petition warned that without these payments, the fund will become “insolvent within a year” and force employees to begin to make “dramatic out-of-pocket” payments for their individual health plans.
For many years, healthcare coverage has been provided 100 percent as part of the union contract, but according to Crowell the agreement signed by the union and the district last year said that effective July 1, the district would pay $2.25 million annually until the final payment is made by June 30, 2024.
“July 1 came, and the district didn’t do it,” he said, pointing out that this issue not only effects teachers but also other school employee unions, including United Administrators of Oakland Schools (UAOS), SEIU 1021, AFSCME Local 257, as well as teamsters, building trades and others.
The OEA petition also focuses on the district’s failure to hire staff to support student learning – including newcomer teachers, speech pathologists and school psychologists – which was part of the agreement that ended the teachers’ strike in February.
In addition, the petition claims that OUSD “refused to honor our personal leave contact language.” Under the contract, teachers are entitled to five days a year of personal leave, which automatically converts to sick leave if unused. When an employee retires, accumulated sick leaves can be added to total length of service to increase pension benefits.
The district is failing to convert unused personal leave to sick leave, Crowell said.
In response to questions from the Oakland Post, district spokesperson John Sasaki said, “First and foremost, no fund is going insolvent (or even could go insolvent). This isn’t possible as the District pays its share of healthcare costs from the General Fund. Pursuant to existing agreements, we are working with all of our union partners to resolve outstanding issues related to potential healthcare set-asides by the District. We are committed to honoring our labor agreements, and addressing any concerns with interpretation, audit findings or hiring by working with OEA.”
Speaking to the school board Wednesday evening about the teachers’ union concerns, OEA President Keith Brown said, “The district is not respecting the agreement you made to hire more psychologists. You’re not respecting the agreement you made with us to hire more speech therapists (and) more newcomer staff. You are not respecting the agreement you made with us regarding our health care.
“I can’t believe what you say because I see what you do.”
Published November 15, 2019, courtesy of the Oakland Post