It’s getting so bad nowadays unions don’t even pretend to serve their members anymore.
Case in point: On May 8, the Oakland (Calif.) Education Association (OEA) pulled its 3,000 members out of the classroom, abandoning 34,000 students with only three weeks left before summer vacation was due to start.
The union, which represents not only teachers but also nurses, social workers, psychologists, counselors, and substitutes, originally warned the strike could well continue into next fall, but news broke over the weekend that the impasse may have been broken.
“We are still on strike, but momentum is on our side,” an OEA tweet said on Saturday night.
What makes the episode so telling is that, by most accounts, the Oakland Unified School District’s (OUSD) offer of nearly $70 million in pay raises was never the sticking point.
Rather, the union ordered its members to strike after the district initially scoffed at OEA’s so-called “common good” demands, which included reparations for black students, use of vacant properties to house homeless students and families, subsidized bus transportation for students who receive free or reduced-price lunch and work to secure Section 8 vouchers from Alameda County and the city of Oakland to meet the housing needs of all families and students at OUSD.
School board President Mike Hutchinson said, “While we agree on the principles of the (common good) proposals, they simply do not belong in the contract language.”
Following a weekend bargaining session, however, OEA and the district say they’ve made progress on four of the demands, including housing and transportation, the community schools grant, the Black Thriving Community Schools initiative, and school closures, the Bay Area News Group reported.
The progress, it bears noting, amounts to promises of further discussion rather than substance.
For example, a task force will be created to identify and expand resources for schools with a 40 percent or higher black student population, transforming those campuses into so-called Black Thriving Community Schools.
Likewise, under the new agreement the Oakland Education Association and the district will “attempt to collaborate with the city of Oakland to identify, develop and institute comprehensive traffic safety improvements” around school property, and work together to provide free bus passes to all the district’s students.
The district will also collaborate with the union on “the identification of possible locations that could be developed into housing” for students who need it.
That the union didn’t actually get any of what it wanted should surprise no one. Not only are the costs of such giveaways far beyond the district’s means, but most of the demands would far exceed OUSD’s purview even if its board members wanted to comply.
“Our members have been on the picket line because we’re fighting for the schools that our kids deserve,” said Samia Khattab, a teacher librarian at Franklin Elementary School and a member of the Oakland Education Association’s bargaining team.
In fact, OUSD lacks both the funds and the authority to grant the union’s wishes. Consequently, the protests were calculated virtue-signaling and nothing more.
OEA President Ismael Armendariz, of course, recognized this all along. He also knew full well he’d ultimately have to drop the extraneous demands and focus on pay and working conditions — the duties his members hand over hundreds of dollars in dues money every year expecting him to perform.
In the meantime, thanks to his six-figure salary and lavish benefits, Armendariz managed to squeak by. If the ordeal was a little less pleasant for the foot soldiers on the picket line, it’s just acceptable collateral damage as far as he’s concerned.
According to the OEA website, 80 percent of its membership authorized the strike in a vote claiming an 87 percent participation rate. Whether those casting votes fully understood that Armendariz planned to tie their personal future to a laundry list of unattainable liberal talking points isn’t entirely clear, though.
What’s unassailably true is that not a single one of the district’s students or the parents who have a perfect right to expect they will be in class every day getting an education was asked their opinion.
For the third time in four years, they are the unwitting pawns. Their dreams and aspirations are being held hostage to OEA leaders’ selfish desire to put their political ideology above the kitchen-table concerns of the union rank and file.
Sadly, the Oakland experience isn’t just an outlier. It’s become the rule rather than the exception among government employee unions in general and teachers’ unions in particular.
Could that be why public employee unions continue to hemorrhage members every day?