On April 11, nearly 3,000 teachers and support staff from California’s Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) staged a walkout and a one-day strike over unfair labor practices by the school district.
The strike was organized by the Sacramento City Teachers Association (SCTA). It was followed by a rally at the district’s office at Serna Center. Hundreds of students, families and members of the United Teachers of Los Angeles and Oakland Education joined the teachers in solidarity.
According to the union, the SCUSD is backtracking on a November 2017 labor agreement between the teachers and the district. Under this contract, the teachers had settled for a lower-quality health plan and in return, the district had agreed to use savings from that plan to reduce class sizes, fund more health workers and improve student services.
David Fisher, the president of SCTA, said that the teachers agreed upon a diluted health plan only so that the students could have better services. “Our ratios of school nurses, school psychologists, counselors and even class sizes are the largest and the most atrocious in the area,” he added.
The union also accused the district of other “unlawful activities”, including making unilateral changes to the teachers’ wages and working conditions, as well as hindering the teachers’ right to negotiate by not sending a district representative to meetings or by trying to dictate who should represent the teachers.
Fisher said this was the first time since 1989 that the teachers had gone on strike.
In 2017, they were ready to strike over wages but the situation was resolved with the last-minute introduction of the agreement, which provided for a 11% pay hike, along with the health plan revision. This time, however, the union voted overwhelmingly for strike action in the light of the precedent of school districts backtracking on labor agreements.
“If our district is allowed to just sign a contract and then change their mind, and not implement it, what does that say for Los Angeles, or Oakland, or for any other district, when that district, to avoid a strike or to end a strike can sign anything, and then never implement it?” said Fisher.
SCUSD had initially planned to counter the teachers’ claims by filing its own unfair labor practices claim against them. However, as the strike concluded, school board president Jessie Ryan called for a “cease-fire”.
Spokesperson Alex Barrios said that the school district has a USD 35 million budget deficit and that it needs the savings from the employee health plan as well as from imminent additional cuts to close this gap.
SCUSD is on the brink of insolvency due to its lopsided budget. Auditors have reported that the budget hole is a result of a number of factors, including a decade of financial missteps, leadership problems and shrinking student enrollment. The district is facing the possibility of a State takeover if the budget is not balanced by June 20, 2019.
This is the third teacher walkout in California in 2019. It follows a six-day strike by 33,000 Los Angeles educators in January and the seven-day strike by 3,300 Oakland teachers that ended early last month. Under the California Democratic Party, the State’s school districts have seen a steady decline in funding to public education over decades, with Sacramento ranking nearly last in terms of teachers’ salaries and per-pupil spending.