Teachers in the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) are threatening a strike. Since July 2017, they have worked without a contract and now they are demanding better pay and smaller class sizes. Without proper pay, these teachers could leave the district for better opportunities, and thereby lower the quality of education in Oakland public schools. They’ve decided that a strike is the best way for them to have their voices heard. Students deserve the best teachers available — if a strike is the only way for those teachers to stick around then it is by all means justified.
While it is true that strikes disrupt student learning, momentary disruption is better than long term departure of talented teachers. The week of school missed during the nine day Oakland strike is much less detrimental than educators of lesser quality. Organizing and holding a strike for better pay is not unfair to students, as it ensures them a quality education for the future.
Granted, the strike could last much longer than a week. If it does, that is all the more reason for the district to give in to their demands. It is an unfortunate disruption for students, but the fact remains that it is the strongest way for teachers to bring attention to their unfair, unlivable salaries.
In addition, there are ways teachers can minimize the disruption their strikes create for students. In a KQED article, teacher Suzi LeBaron said when Oakland High School teachers held a wildcat strike — a strike by union workers without the authorization of union leadership — they did their due diligence. LeBaron, explained that teachers purposely chose a date which would have a lesser impact on students, and they informed the principal and parents ahead of time. Through methods like these, teachers can get the best of both worlds. They’re able to voice their demands without unnecessarily disrupting students’ education. Some teachers pointed out that the strikes themselves can serve as a learning experience for students — it teaches them to stand up for themselves when they are being treated unfairly.
At the end of the day, students’ education will be impacted if the plan for a strike moves forward. It’s a necessary evil, which can only be prevented by accommodating teachers properly. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “Oakland pays teachers a starting salary of roughly $46,000, while nearby San Leandro Unified pays $60,000, Hayward Unified pays $61,000 and Fremont Unified pays $65,000.” Clearly, they are very underpaid. The district should better compensate teachers, and the government should give schools adequate money to pay teachers a wage that allows them to live comfortably in the same city they work in.
Strikes such as these, or the many teacher strikes over the past year in other states, reveal a disturbing trend throughout the country: workers such as police officers, firemen and teachers aren’t being paid enough to live in the communities they serve. Despite the essential services these groups provide, their hard work is not being valued enough.
Taxpayers and government officials need to show their appreciation and provide these workers with adequate support. These are the people who protect us, keep us safe, and educate our children — they deserve more.