Chapter 7 - Negotiations
Negotiations took place almost every day following the initiation of the strike. Most of them went poorly, however, and the union was forced to reject the district's various and unsettling offers. Some offers, in fact, were no better than the previous arrangements, and the union and the teachers were upset by these "deals." On February 5, for instance, the district offered nothing that would increase wages or help students. They said they wanted to "eliminate a $500 annual stipend each teacher receives for supplies." The union responded by saying, "We want to see something other than a regressive proposal. We can't negotiate on anything less than the previous proposal." Many more poor excuses for deals were offered by the district but all of them too unsatisfactory for union negotiators.
On February 22 the district again met with the OEA to negotiate. After the union refused to allow the teachers to be ripped off by the new deal the district officials proposed, the district decided they'd had enough negotiating and refused to talk with the union. When the district officials attempted to leave the meeting they were slowed by angry teachers. "Go back in! Go back in!" the teachers yelled insisting they stay and work out a fair deal. Teachers then attempted to block the doors and force the district to stay inside and negotiate. As the Oakland Tribune reported, "Teachers first used chairs to blockade doors of the negotiating room," then, when the district officials tried to drive away, "teachers trying to block [the] path fell onto the hood ...[then] were thrown to the pavement." Forced to engage in direct action teachers were demanding the strike be settled. "There has to be change, there will be change," exclaimed striking school teacher Kathy Maloney. The striking teachers were growing very impatient and very tired of the district's failure to comply fairly, As one teacher cried, "We are angrier now more than ever. This is totally unacceptable."
In the midst of multiple and unsuccessful negotiations Congressman Ron Dellums entered the scene. It wasn't being handled by the union or the district so it was obviously time to bring in politicians. Dellums stated, "This is not about one side or the another winning, it's about the children. They're the ones suffering." And in the same breath he nearly repeated himself by adding, that "unequivocally, the focus must be on the children and the quality of their education." While getting a lot of attention during the strike Dellums did basically nothing.
Conveniently, with the elections near, he was able to jump into the scene, give his objective point of view, and leave without doing a thing. Everybody agrees with him because he said nothing against the strike or for it, he simply stated what everybody already agrees upon. Interestingly, the press pointed Dellums out as a man who was doing a lot to help end the strike. Other politicians and mediators attempted to intervene, gain popularity, and supposedly help settle the strike as well, but when the case is examined it is understood that the effect politicians and mediators had upon the negotiations was nil.
On March 16 the district again negotiated with the OEA, this time without the "help" of any congressmen. This time the district made no promises, but instead assured the union that the district and the teachers would work things out down the road, with certain goals in mind. The union responded by stating that, "We want a settlement that is real, not full of goals." Without even hearing out the union's full response the district negotiators fled the meeting again.
Teachers did not take to the district's unfair dealing lightly. According to Oakland police, "Later that evening, angry teachers drove past school board head Lucella Harrison's residence on Lakeshore Avenue in a caravan, honking their horns. The protest degenerated into a fight, with rocks and bottles thrown back at the teachers." Unless a fair agreement was reached the striking teachers were not going to give up. "We've been out too long now for a diluted agreement," said one teacher, "I hope to see a reflection of a serious reform in this district. I don't know if I could stand for another disappointment."
Footnotes 48 - 56
48. Bazeley, Michael, "Talks stall, teachers could strike again," Oakland Tribune, February 6, 1996.
50. Bazeley, Michael, "Teachers combative at school talks," Oakland Tribune, February 23, 1996.
51. Maloney, Kathy, as quoted by Michael Bazeley and Cecily Burt, "City offers to mediate in dispute," Oakland Tribune, February 29, 1996.
52. Ibid., Frenchie Alford as quoted.
53. Dellums, Ron, as quoted by Michael Bazeley and Peggy Stinnett, "Dellums: "It's time to come together" in teachers' strike," Oakland Tribune, February 27, 1996.
54. Rountree, Ward, as quoted by Michael Bazeley, "Negotiations slip into reverse," Oakland Tribune, March 17, 1996.
56. As quoted by Angela Hill, "Strike may be history," Oakland Tribune, March 19, 1996.