Thousands of teachers and other school workers in Sacramento left their jobs on Wednesday as the California capital became the second largest US school district this month, with work halted in the third week of a teachers’ strike in Minneapolis due to lack of pay and staff.
Disputes in Sacramento and Minneapolis, where teachers moved out on March 8, come as school districts across the country deal with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and limited resources.
Across the country, union workers are taking advantage of the opportunity presented by tight labor markets, which they feel have been lost in recent decades due to the reduction in the size and influence of unions. And experts expect to see more labor struggles as the country emerges from the pandemic.
After negotiations with the Sacramento City Teachers Association and Service Employees International Union Local 1021 failed, the Sacramento City Unified School District canceled classes at 76 of its schools on Wednesday, affecting 43,000 students.
Unions representing 2,800 teachers and 1,800 school workers voted overwhelmingly for the strike earlier this month. Educators say that despite federal funding and a district budget surplus, Sacramento has a severe shortage of staff that it can tap into.
“The district has lost priorities and there is no sense of urgency,” said teachers union president David Fischer.
California Labor Federation spokesman Steve Smith said these labor actions are part of a trend nationwide that began with the pandemic, including at SEIU Local 1021.
“Workers are fed up with really bad behavior, usually some security protection, low pay. Many of these are essential workers who have really propelled our economy through the most difficult times,” Smith said.
Bradley Mariano, a professor of education policy at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas who studies teacher unions and collective bargaining, said teacher strikes were on the rise before the pandemic, and he expects teachers to return after two stressful years. Gotta make noise. ,
“Tight labor markets create bargaining power,” Mariano said, “that school districts are saying: ‘It’s hard to staff classrooms right now.’ And this perception, real or not, creates bargaining power for teacher unions to negotiate higher teacher salaries.”
Elsewhere in Northern California, teachers in the Mount Diablo district in the San Francisco Bay Area reached a tentative settlement Saturday. In Sonoma County’s Kotaty-Rohnert Park district, teachers returned to work last Thursday after a six-day strike. Spokesmen for the two largest national teachers’ unions said they were not aware of any other teachers’ strike.
The District of Sacramento said the 2% pay increase proposal is what it can afford. It is also offering to pay 100% of the health care coverage.
More than 4,500 teachers and support workers are still on strike in Minneapolis, where talks have often been heated. Negotiations on the larger issues of pay, class sizes and better mental health support for the district’s 29,000 students have increased, but with no success.
“We’re holding off until it’s done,” Sean Laden, a leader of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, said in a video on Tuesday.
Union leaders have insisted the Minneapolis district is full of cash, thanks to the pandemic relief fund, while administrators say they are not. The district says the “last, best and final offer” made this week will require at least $10 million in budget cuts.
In a video message on Tuesday, school board president Kim Ellison called it “a strong proposal” that calls for a significant increase in pay and should be more than enough “to find an agreement that works for both parties.” and get our kids back to school as soon as possible.”
Mariano said the influx of federal funds is outpacing school district budgets across the country, but administrators are hesitant to allocate those short-term funds to longer ones.
Minneapolis administrators have reported that their budget has about $70 million in federal aid one-time money that would force painful cuts if used for long-term obligations.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who helped break the impasse between teachers and the district in 2017, urged both sides to do everything possible to end the strike immediately.
“The kids have dropped out of school enough. Their education and mental health are at risk. In a statement on Wednesday, Steinberg said, “If adults keep fighting, they will continue to suffer.”