Wednesday, April 28, 2010

When the school bell starts ringin, will we hear it?

Oh, strikes. How much you were romanticized by Newsies*. Even a thorough academic education in labor history (Crushing Realism 101, anyone?) hasn't quite convinced me otherwise.

I have a feeling that tomorrow I'll be cured of any lingering warm feeling. Oakland teachers have called a one-day strike and I'm faced with crossing the picket line.

The very short story is $$. Oakland doesn't have any. California doesn't have any. Teachers really don't have any. The district and the state are infamous for bankrupting Oakland's schools. Things have been improving, but, oh, hello recession! The district won't budge and finally imposed a contract after years of bargaining. Teachers remain unimpressed.

Short and informative NPR interviews with district superintendent and union president.

Where do I come into it? Well, first off, one of the contested provisions of the newly imposed contract is eliminating the minimum number of full time Adult School teachers. As a newly credentialed and yet to be employed Adult Ed teacher, that pretty much blows. (OK, it's possible that throwing full time teachers out of jobs could at least mean more part time positions for people like me. Yeah right, most likely it will spell big cuts to the program.)

Second of all, I have to, you know, go to work! Or not? It's not my union! But... a scab by any other name? I've had an impossible time getting any straight information at work. The district sent us a stern memo: You are expected to work. Written note demanded for anyone who calls in sick. School admin is supportive (the vice principal will be out with coffee for the picketers!) and says it's up to us but the day is still unpaid if you don't come. Recommended we come early to avoid physically crossing the picket line. Teachers are officially mum.

I had to turn to the free press bloggers:
Teachers will be on strike Thursday. But what about your school secretary and custodian? Your teacher’s aide (where applicable)?

There’s been some confusion among district employees about whether the `other unions’ — the SEIU and AFSCME, mainly — will show up to work or stand with the teachers. I can empathize with the confused: I contacted the local SEIU office at least twice, called the Pasadena-based employee hotline, questioned the public relations guy, e-mailed the OUSD rep and got nowhere.
It turns out my union has a no-strike clause, which prevents them from officially organizing us in a strike and makes everyone else afraid to tell us to do anything at all.

Well, I'm going in. I support the teachers but they can make their point without classified staff. Some kids don't have the option not to come to school and I would worry about them without competent staff. (Subs are also striking, district is hiring people off craigslist at $300 a pop for what will amount to crowd control.)

I really, really hope there is not an extended action. I hear the last strike was 14 years ago and lasted a month. But if there is? I can't really afford to, but I would hope to stand in solidarity.

*For everyone that isn't Natalia, the title of this post is a paraphrased lyric from The World Will Know. Please forgive my weakness in embedding above. Oh, Christian Bale, I'll strike with you any day.


  1. Prop this, prop that. First thing you know, there isn't any money and no wiggle room. Illinois is just a little way behind you.

  2. Yeah, props can be bad news. Direct democracy needs a really well-informed (and ideally intelligent) electorate to work. Not that legislators are immune from the stupid disease by any means; one of my favorite examples is the famous (though often distorted nigh unto urban myth) 1897 bill to redefine the value of pi that passed the Indiana House of Representatives unanimously. Still, it's at least their job to think about what they're doing, and we can vote 'em out if they're lousy enough. Much as I'd sometimes like to in the abstract, I'm glad we can't vote out our fellow citizens. But lawmaking generally speaking shouldn't be for dilettantes.

    Sorry to hear about the labor issues...that's a real dilemma. I hope the strike doesn't drag out. I suppose one could take solace in that at least all the teachers in your town haven't been fired because of "No Child Left Uninterfered-With By The Federal Government."


  3. Ditto on Christian Bale, daughter!!