Two San Francisco Unified School District unions, the teachers’ union and the union for school staff, are readying for possible strikes as soon as October, following months of stalled contract negotiations with the school district, according to union representatives.
The strikes could mean that thousands of teachers, janitors, school nurses, and other workers will walk off the job in the coming weeks, similar to a strike by Oakland teachers that shut down schools for two weeks in May.
Both unions, the United Educators of San Francisco and SEIU 1021, have been in negotiations with the school district for months. Their bargaining sessions are at a standstill, representatives from both unions said.
“In our perspective, they gave us, this past Monday, the same proposal they gave us in May,” said Frank Lara, the teachers’ union executive vice president. “We feel the district is not being responsive.”
“I don’t see it going anywhere,” said Rafael Picazo, the president of the SEIU’s chapter for school district workers. “It’s just a lack of response; they’re not taking it seriously.”
Both unions will seek their members’ approval to strike in the coming weeks.
The school district, in a statement, said it has been “working diligently and in good faith” to negotiate the contracts, saying bargaining for contracts of this size typically takes a year or longer. Union representatives disputed this, saying past contracts have been bargained in a matter of months.
The school district also pointed out that the Public Employees Relations Board had not yet formally considered negotiations at an “impasse,” a process involving a third-party mediator that would be a precursor to a formal strike. Still, the unions could strike regardless, union representatives said.
Teachers advance a strike proposal
On Wednesday, 200 representatives of United Educators of San Francisco, which represents some 6,500 teachers in the city, voted unanimously to authorize a strike.
The vote this week sends the decision to the full membership of the union, which will decide whether to strike on Oct. 11, according to Lara, a 13-year teacher in the school district. The membership would then have to vote a second time, later in October, to authorize a strike.
If the membership votes twice to strike, teachers could walk off the job soon after, Lara said, without giving a set date.
“Our goal is not to strike,” said Alex Schmaus, a special-education instructional aide and a member of the union’s bargaining committee. “It’s to get a good contract. The good contract is what will be best for our members and our students.”
But, Schmaus said, “there was not a single delegate that spoke against the resolution” to strike during Wednesday’s meeting.
Janitors, lunch workers could also strike
A separate union, SEIU 1021, which represents some 900 custodial workers and other school staff, decided to go forward with a strike authorization even earlier, according to Picazo, who has worked as a hazardous materials inspector in the school district for 40 years.
SEIU represents the lowest paid workers in the school district, Picazo said. They have not had a new contract since 2020, he noted, meaning four years without raises.
“Our members are getting pissed,” he said. “They’re calling us up, they’re not getting a raise, asking us, ‘How come we’re not fighting stronger?’”
SEIU’s members will vote on whether to strike across two days, Sept. 30 and Oct. 3, said Picazo, and could also walk off the job soon thereafter.
Negotiations stalled for months
The votes come after months of negotiations between the district and the unions.
The teachers’ union has held 18 bargaining sessions, demanding several changes to its contract: A two-year contract with increased pay, smaller class sizes and more resources for special education teachers, among other changes.
“Specifically, on the classified economic package, they haven’t moved at all,” Schmaus said, referring to pay for non-credentialed educators. The union’s demands for salary increases, in both certified and classified packages, have been countered with lesser numbers by the district, he said.
Lara, the union vice president, said that a rally on Monday, in which some 1,300 teachers and their supporters protested outside the school district headquarters, was the largest action the union has taken in a decade, a sign of resolve.
“It’s like a train is moving, and there’s just plans to keep it going, unless the district offers something realistic,” he said.
The school’s janitorial staff and other workers have been negotiating for almost a year, Picazo said: “None of us want to go on strike. It does nobody any good. We don’t get paid while we’re on strike. Nobody wants to do this.”
Large class sizes, low salaries
Andrew Bader, another educator and union member, said that the staff-to-student ratio is so low that he has personally had to cover classes in excess of 90 students.
“Everyone in modern education understands that smaller class sizes are the goal, and beneficial for the students,” he said.
Gina Cargas, a teacher librarian, pointed to the school district’s long-running payroll debacle, which has left thousands of teachers underpaid or mis-paid. “I had two months where I didn’t get paid at all last year,” she said.
Bader, for his part, said the district should increase its salary floor for new employees if it wants to address the city’s ongoing teacher shortage.
“Every district that has gone on strike has seen double-digit-percentage increases [in teacher salaries], and they all have lower vacancy rates than we do,” he explained.
He mentioned that Superintendent Matt Wayne has received multiple raises this past year. Wayne’s contract with the school district shows a base salary of $328,879.
“Our wages have not kept pace with the rising cost of living, for decades now,” added Schmaus. “It takes more than one contract fight to take care of it.”
And Picazo, the SEIU chapter president, said his members are paid lower salaries than their counterparts in city government. They are asking for 16 percent raises, an average of 4 percent a year since their last contract, in 2020.
“They survived the pandemic. They worked during the pandemic while the bosses stayed at home. They became the heroes of the district,” Picazo said of custodial staff and other workers. “This is the worst I’ve seen our members being treated by our district.”
Additional reporting by Yujie Zhou.