By: Robyn Gee
The Occupy Oakland movement has had support from unions and laborers since its early days, but for a union to issue a formal strike is a different matter. Unions often need a ten-day notice and must have a member meeting where they vote on the possible action to strike. But that hasn't kept unions from finding a way to support today's strike.
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is not officially striking, but many branches of SEIU have endorsed parts of the day of action. The SEIU 1021 Executive Board issued a statement of solidarity and urged participation.
To avoid misinterpretation: Occupy Oakland has called for a "general strike," but SEIU 1021 is not asking any members to "go on strike" -- that would be a violation of many SEIU 1021 contracts. Instead, we encourage members to use legitimate time off to stand in support of Occupy Oakland and join the day's events at the "Peaceful Day of Action."
City of Oakland Workers: The City has agreed that workers may use a day of comp time, vacation time, a floating holiday or leave without pay in order to participate.
Elizabeth Brennan, media spokesperson for SEIU United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU UHW) said that the union stands in solidarity with the Occupy movement, but she recognizes that workers face a tough decision. "I think that any worker who has a union, and the majority of workers who don't -- walking off the job is a risk, it's a serious statement," she said.
Pablo Serrano, a member of the Communication Workers of America (CWA), but works on staff for SEIU United Long Term Care Workers (ULTCW), said ,"I will definitely be organizing my community to attend, and to be part of the day of action." Serrano said he has been phone-banking, door-knocking, educating, and sparking a discussion with Alameda County community members about ways to participate.
According to Serrano, the primary concerns from his fellow union members have been about police brutality. "The primary discussion is about the character of the policing force. We're coming to the situation as a nonviolent movement, we believe in civil disobedience, and we cannot be met by a repressive police force," he said.
Many local teacher unions have issued statements along the same lines. As part of the "Day of Action", there are events that take place after hours that many teachers will be attending. While the statewide California Teachers Association (CTA) has not taken an official position on the strike, local branches have urged their members to participate in whatever way possible.
Betty Olson, the president of the Oakland Education Association (OEA) said, "We support the general strike because they're calling it a mass mobilization day. We're basically asking our members, if they choose, to take a personal leave day [on Wednesday]."
Olson said that there's no doubt whether teachers should stand with the Occupy movement. The OEA, in fact, sponsored the portable toilets at the encampment outside City Hall in Oakland, according to Olson. And when the OEA sent out email blasts to assess the member sentiment towards a strike, the responses were positive. "We certainly have members that think we should call for a strike. Part of the problem is the short turnaround time. We would have had to have a meeting," said Olson.
Many teachers will stay at school, and instead of teaching their normal lesson, will go over the history of the general strike. Others will leave directly after school and participate in the evening events, like the 5 P.M. march, or the reported 7 P.M. meal sponsored by the Alameda Labor Council. "Teachers are just like other public workers. We've been smashed up against the wall with higher class sizes than we've had in 10 or 15 years. Teachers haven't had a raise in years, and schools are closing," said Olson.
Maxwell Park International Academy, one of the Oakland elementary schools slated for closure due to budget cuts, had originally planned to shut down for Wednesday's event. But the plan fell through, according to Aaron Stark, Maxwell Park Union representative and teacher. "It's a little sad, I was excited," said Stark. "We thought the entire district was going to try to shut down... Ultimately shutting the school down in a long term sense would cause the district to lose [Average Daily Attendance] money ... and we're not striking against the district... Ultimately our anger goes towards public funding of education," said Stark.
Stark approximates that half of the teachers at his school will find substitutes and participate in the strike, and the others will stay at school.
Megan Macpherson, a teacher in Richmond, CA, said she will be staying at school. "The union representative at my school is calling in sick on Wednesday, but I plan on showing up to work. I think teachers should only go on strike for specific, clear reasons, like losing health care benefits, or unjust portions of our contract... since our students depend on our lessons to make progress in school. While I support the Occupy movement, I can't justify leaving my students unless I know that striking will directly benefit the situation at my school," she said.
The Berkeley Federation of Teachers issued a statement along the same lines, encouraging their members to take part in the evening rallies, "While we understand the reasons behind the Occupy Movement and the call for a strike, we feel that as educators it is our responsibility to continue educating our students, thus school will be in session... One thing that this does is to insure that parents who are participating in the day-long event do not have to worry about their children, who will be experiencing a normal school day in the Berkeley District," wrote Mark Coplan, Public Information Officer for Berkeley Unified School District, in an email.
Occupy Oakland has published statements of support from other unions on their website, including the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, the Philippine Airline Workers, and the Union for Postdoctoral Researchers at University of California.
This story is part of Youth Radio's California Schools Desk, supported by a grant from the California Endowment. Turnstyle News is a property of Youth Radio.