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Oakland teachers confront contractor outside administrative building construction site

Oakland teachers confront contractor outside administrative building construction site
Oakland teachers confront contractor outside administrative building construction site 02:24

OAKLAND -- Tensions were on the rise early Thursday as a contractor was confronted by a line of picketing Oakland teachers at a site where an OUSD administrative building is under construction.

The incident happened early during the sixth day of the ongoing Oakland teachers strike. Teachers were picketing outside the district's new $57 million administrative center being built at the Cole campus on Union Street. 

Oakland teachers confront contractor
Oakland teachers confront contractor at OUSD administrative building construction site. CBS

Video shows the teachers marched in front of the construction site's entrance. A contractor arriving for work inched his truck toward the protesters as he tried to get in, leading to a standoff.

"You can't block this drive like this. It's illegal!" the contractor can be heard telling the picketing teachers who refused to move and allow him to cross their line.

The contractor ended up getting out of his truck and leaving the vehicle at the gate rather than escalating the confrontation.  

Teachers argue the project is misusing Measure Y funds that could be used instead to address health and safety issues at school sites.

"They are spending $57 million on this project and, at the same time, we have crumbling facilities at our schools and are asking for much needed facility upgrades," said striking Oakland teacher Divia Faris. "We have contaminants at a number of schools, we have leaking sewage, we have roofs that  are falling apart. It's just ironic."

A sticking point in the negotiations between the Oakland Unified School District and the Oakland Education Association -- which represents about 3,000 teachers and other employees -- remains the "common good" proposals that Oakland's striking teachers are demanding.

School district officials said Wednesday evening it would cost more than $1 billion to implement the OEA's proposals. Teachers maintain that the district has failed to bargain with them for seven months, and that their common good demands include critical upgrades for "crumbling" school facilities that need immediate attention.

With 11 days remaining in the school year for 35,000 students in the district, time is running out for end of the year learning and events as the stalemate continues. 

The district's wage proposal on the table includes a 10 percent retroactive raise and a $5,000 one-time bonus for union members. It also provides every teacher with a raise of at least 13 percent and as much as 22 percent.

The offer also cuts the time it takes teachers to reach the top of the pay scale to 20 years from 32 years.

District officials remain adamant, however, that the union's proposals addressing homelessness, use of vacant properties and drought-tolerant landscaping shouldn't be part of the bargaining process and are cost-prohibitive.

Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell said the teachers' union was "assigning the district with broad societal issues" that are outside its scope. 

"While the district agrees that these issues should be addressed, and we are working on many of them, the issues cannot be tackled through school district budgets alone. They demand multi-agency government support," Johnson-Trammell said in a statement released by the district.

Measure Y, approved by votes in 2020, allowed the district to issue $735 million in bonds to pay for the necessary school and facility improvements across the district. 

The teachers union says Measure Y funds could pay to address plumbing issues that are causing raw sewage to leak into classrooms, for heating and cooling upgrades, and removal of hazardous materials at campuses that have reported elevated levels of contaminants in water and soil.

Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao on Thursday released a statement encouraging the two sides to reach an agreement.

"One Oakland means that we all work together toward a shared goal of a united city -- one in which all residents have opportunities to live, work, play and learn. That includes our children, who deserve to be in classrooms getting quality education in a safe, equitable and joyful environment," the statement read in part. "And that includes our teachers and school district staff, who are charged with educating our greatest asset: Oakland's youth. We must support the needs of both for the good of our communities and the entire city."

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