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Oakland Teachers Strike: Negotiators Return To Bargaining Table

OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- Oakland public school teachers rallied across the city again Friday as the Oakland Education Association continues bargaining with the Oakland Unified School District for higher pay.

Multiple marches converged at DeFremery Park Friday afternoon as thousands of teachers and protesters gathered for what appeared to be the biggest rallies since the strike began.

ALSO READ: Parents' Survival Guide For Oakland Teachers Strike

Day 2 of the Oakland teachers strike started well before sunrise. It was no mistake that one of the larger protests Friday morning was at Roots International Academy.

Back in December, the board voted to close Roots by the end of the year because of low test scores.

In fact, the district is looking at closing or consolidating a number of schools with dwindling enrollment.

On the second day of the strike, teachers union representatives said ending school closures was linked to the unions existing demands for smaller class sizes and better pay.

"The issue of school closures is directly connected with our key bargaining demands," Oakland Educators Association President Keith Brown. "So to address our bargaining demands, you must address the issue of school closures. So that conversation will happen between OEA and the school district."

Oakland Unified spokesperson John Sasaki countered that the district's plan about what to do with the 11,000 empty seats in Oakland classrooms is unrelated.

"No, school closures are not part of the negotiations at the table," said Sasaki.

Negotiators returned to the bargaining table Friday, hoping to hammer out an agreement and bring a swift end to a strike by Oakland's 3,000 public school teachers.

Still, Sasaki said he is hopeful there will be movement Friday.

"I don't know what's going on behind closed doors, I'm not part of the negotiating team. But I do know that two days ago, we gave a brand new offer," said Sasaki. "And we haven't heard any kind of counter proposal from the union, in what, 7 or 8 months. So we're hoping that we can get something new from them."

Late Friday afternoon, Brown announced that he will begin participating in contract negotiations in hopes of jump-starting talks.

At a news conference, Brown said that "nothing much" happened in negotiations between the union and the school district that resumed at 9 a.m. on Friday and "there was very little movement."

"I will intervene and see what I can do to get the process moving," explained Brown. "I need to get involved in the process for the benefit of the community."

The walkout began on Thursday with teachers, parents, students and supporters manning picket lines outside the Oakland Unified School District's 86 schools and attending a massive rally in support of the strikers.

"Parents, teachers and students spoke with their feet today," Brown said Thursday evening, calling for a strong turnout on Day Two. "Strikes are won on the streets, not at the bargaining table."

Meanwhile at the negotiating table, the two sides have been at loggerheads over pay increases. There was no negotiating session on Thursday as the teachers struck the school system of some 36,000 students for the first time in more than 20 years.

ALSO READ: KPIX 5 Reporter Remembers 1996 Oakland School Strike

Union leaders rejected an offer made Wednesday of a 7 percent raise over four years and a one-time 1.5 percent bonus. That was an increase over the district's offer of a 5 percent pay increase over three years.

The teachers union is demanding a 12 percent pay increase over three years.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf -- who was educated within the Oakland school system and has two children currently enrolled there -- pleaded for both sides to be open to a compromise agreement.

"Oakland is nothing without teachers," Schaaf told KPIX 5. "No community can keep democracy alive without great teachers that have the conditions that allow them to teach our children."

"I also want to commend the district for putting forward another offer based on the fact-finding recommendations and I am so pleased the teachers union has come back to the table. I'm encouraged that the conversations are starting again."

Oakland teachers are among the lowest paid in Alameda County according to the teachers union, with salaries ranging from $46,000 to $85,000. Nearly 600 teachers left their positions at Oakland public schools last year, according to the union, which says the district can't retain teachers or attract experienced new teachers with such low wages.

"I'm bleeding out every month, falling further into debt," said Sarah Trauben, 30, who teaches english and government at Oakland Technical High School.

Union leaders said 85 percent of their rank and file manned the picket lines Thursday. Inside the schools, classes overseen by substitute teachers were sparsely attended. Fortunately, Friday was already a planned administrative day off long before the strike.

The strike is the second major walk out by teachers in California this year. Teachers in Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest school district, staged a six-day strike last month that ended when they settled on a 6 percent raise with promises of smaller class sizes and the addition of nurses and counselors.

A number of Oakland restaurants are offering striking teachers discounts, giving them a break of 20 to 25 percent on meals. Farley's East is going even further, offering five dollar lunches, while Temescal Brewing is handing out a free pint per day to OUSD teachers.

For a more complete list of businesses, striking teachers can visit the SF Eater website.

KPIX 5 correspondents Susie Steimle and Andrea Nakano contributed to this report

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