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Narrative & Politics Behind Labor Unrest

Hutchinson, B. (2019). Wave of teachers' strikes pressure states, school boards to change tune [Web log]. ABC News. Available at

This article highlights how teachers in districts across the country, fueled by victories in strikes in West Virginia, Los Angeles, and Denver over higher wages and better working conditions, are following suit by striking, considering work stoppages, and advocating for better working conditions in their own contexts. The author suggests that these movements provide a sense of possibility in a joint effort that resonates with the community. In addition to the fight on the ground level, education leaders are testifying before the House Education and Labor Committees on a bill intended to funnel $100 billion to public schools. Visible parent support accompanies the effort and recognizes the value the teacher plays in their child’s life. These efforts apply increased pressure on school boards to consider reaching agreements that improve teacher working conditions and increase compensation to fair living wages.  

**Bretón, M. (2019). Let’s do the math on Sac City teachers union allegations – they add up to a nothingburger [Web log]. The Sacramento Bee. Available at

This article refutes recent Sacramento City Teachers Association (SCTA) accusations of “potential misallocation of resources” leveled against Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) Superintendent Jorge Aguilar. The author asserts that district dysfunction predates Aguilar’s leadership and that these accusations are a strategic deflection from the real source of the district’s budget gap. The author reviews district budget allocations dating back more than a decade and reveals that SCUSD allocates 91% of its budget to salary and premium benefits. The author argues that this percentage is an outlier among similar districts, the result of previous administrators cowing to SCTA demands, and the source of potential insolvency in the district.

Sacramento City Teachers Association. (2019) Re: Request for investigation of potential misuse of public dollars and conflict of interest at Sacramento City Unified School District [Letter to California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond]. Sacramento, CA: Author. Available at

SCTA leaders wrote a letter to Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond asking him to investigate areas of concern regarding their school district’s budget and Superintendent Jorge Aguilar. The letter articulates SCTA’s concern that Superintendent Aguilar has violated district policy and that the district has not investigated instances of what it believes to be misuse of funds. The union claims that Aguilar had outside employment and accepted monetary gifts while serving as superintendent, and that the district has not thoroughly explored specific school sites that had been accused of misallocation of funds. The letter demonstrates high tensions between the district and union and the nature of their interactions as they work to resolve their budget crisis.

Johnson-Trammell, K. (2019). Oakland superintendent: District must choose 'imperfect solutions over strife' [Web log]. EdSource. Available at

Kyla Johnson-Trammell, superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District, wrote this commentary prior to the start of the Oakland teachers’ strike in February 2019. She stated that although she knew a teacher strike was scheduled, she was doing everything in her power to move the district toward a solution that could satisfy the teachers union and ensure the fiscal vitality of the entire district. Johnson-Trammell admitted her frustration and disappointment that the district was facing these tensions again and expressed hope that in five years, Oakland will be in a different place by focusing on both improving the district’s financial systems and changing where and how to spend money to better serve Oakland’s students. Johnson-Trammell noted that while the district and the teachers might sit across from each other at the bargaining table, they are on the same team; the district supports the teachers and their goals of smaller class sizes, higher pay, and more counselors and support staff.  Together, while living in the district’s current financial reality, she urged the community to call on the state for increased investment in teachers and students.

Associated Press. (2019) Oakland teachers go on strike, demand pay raises [Web log]. NBC News. Available at

This news article outlines the Oakland Education Association’s reasons for their week-long strike in late February 2019. A primary reason for the strike was to negotiate wage increases. With skyrocketing housing prices in the Bay Area, many Oakland teachers find it challenging to live in the community where they teach and end up leaving the district as a result. The union also advocated for increasing the number of counselors and nurses, as well as preventing the district from closing 24 schools.

Knudson, J., Castro, M., & Blum, J. (2017). From combat to collaboration: The labor–management partnership in San José Unified School District. San Mateo, CA: Author. (Executive Summary). Available at

In the wake of an intense contract negotiation and against the backdrop of a district bankruptcy, multiple teacher strikes, and a wave of mistrust that veterans of the era still refer to as “rock bottom,” the San José Unified superintendent and the San José Teachers Association president decided to chart a different path forward.  From Combat to Collaboration documents the 30-year history of how the district and union laid the groundwork for a new way of working together, how leaders have continued to foster and deepen the partnership, the day-to-day policies and practices that allow the relationship to flourish, and how collaboration enables the district to better serve its students. The report concludes with a set of lessons that can inform other districts and unions seeking to develop a more productive relationship. For the full report, please visit

**This document is considered a priority reading.