Berkeley High School teachers join Oakland teachers’ strike in solidarity

Ben Klein/Staff

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News vans and organizers congregated while helicopters circled overhead early Thursday morning at Oakland Technical High School for a picketing demonstration. The demonstration kicked off Oakland’s districtwide teachers’ strike, where teachers from Berkeley High School also joined in solidarity.

The Oakland strike is the latest in a series of educators’ strikes, following those in Los Angeles and West Virginia in which teachers have sought higher pay. Strikers hope to win a 12 percent raise over the next three years, rather than the Oakland Unified School District’s proposed 7 percent raise. They are also pushing for more counselors and nurses to be hired, as well as for reduced class sizes.

The picketing demonstration began about 7 a.m. at the plaza in front of Oakland Tech and drew support from Berkeley High, Oakland Tech’s sister school, from which several teachers came to show support.

Karen Zapata, an English teacher at Berkeley High who attended the strike, stressed the importance of solidarity between the schools. Zapata added that the Berkeley High teachers “support their right to strike.”

“I really appreciate the Berkeley teachers out here — there’s like 20 Berkeley teachers, God bless them. …. It’s really beautiful, us all working together for something,” said biology teacher and Oakland Tech alumna Sierra Donaldson, as picketers marched in a circle in the plaza of Oakland Tech behind her.

Demonstrators carried signs and chanted, “Public education is a right! That’s why we are out on strike!” A young girl wrote in chalk, “If you can read this, thank a teacher” on the ground.

Jah-Yee Woo, a history teacher at Oakland Tech, emphasized that the strike began with student interests in mind. According to Woo, a teacher’s ability to provide “individualized attention” to students is a priority of the strike.

“As a history teacher, we know that movements succeed because of solidarity, that people stand shoulder to shoulder with each other when the cause is important, and our students — and investing in their education — is a just cause,” Woo said.

Educators’ concerns over salary, especially in the Bay Area where the Consumer Price Index rose 4.5 percent in 2018, are not unique to Oakland. Zapata said Berkeley teachers are also “not paid enough” and are campaigning for a “living wage.”

“We’re working also to move our district to pay us more and to have more programs for young people,” Zapata said. “We live in a gentrifying area that is more and more difficult for working-class people to live and thrive within, so our struggle is the same struggle (as Oakland’s).”

Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb detailed plans to open 15 recreation centers across Oakland to support those affected by the strike. In a statement, he also expressed his hopes that “Oakland teachers receive a fair package and that the strike is limited in duration.”

Valarie Or, an Oakland Tech sophomore, expressed student support for the strike and added that she hopes teachers will get the benefits they deserve.

“We’ll do whatever we can to get our demands (met) for our teachers and for us as students,” Or said.

Contact Ben Klein at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @BenKlein_dc ‏.