At least 200 educators and their supporters calling for higher wages under the threat of a strike stormed the San Francisco Unified School District’s headquarters on Tuesday.
“We will strike — you better believe it,” one SFUSD teacher said, addressing education leaders during a Board of Education hearing.
Dozens more echoed that sentiment, declaring that they were prepared to strike should contract negotiations that have been ongoing since February continue to stall. Hours earlier, hundreds of educators wearing black union shirts rallied outside of the school district’s administrative offices at 555 Franklin St., waving signs that read “I’m ready to strike” and “SF educators need a raise.”
The demonstration comes on the heels of a bargaining session between The City’s teachers union, United Educators of San Francisco (UESF), and SFUSD last week that failed to end in agreement.
The school district’s most recent offer — an 11 percent pay hike over three years and a one-time 2 percent bonus — has been rejected by the union members,who are demanding a 12 percent raise over three years and a 4 percent bonus.
An SFUSD spokesperson has estimated that a 12 percent pay increase would cost the district $136 million over three years. Tentative agreements between SFUSD and three other unions have been approved, but teachers continue to work without contracts.
UESF has set a strike vote for Nov. 8. Representatives of different labor unions on Tuesday declared their allegiance with UESF, should the union call for a strike.
Members of AFT 2121, the union that represents educators and employees of City College of San Francisco, said that SFUSD graduates enrolled at the community college have in the past had access to “the best teachers, counselors and nurses,” and that their union would stand with UESF in the event of a strike.
Special Education teacher Diane Thompson said that the district’s failure to retain teachers has impacted many of its neediest students.
“It’s a lot to ask teachers to not be paid living wages and work in high functioning schools,” Thompson said. “Teacher turnovers severely affect the achievement gap … the district’s inability to sustain and retain Special Ed teachers has stressed schools, communities, families and made many of our schools unsafe and unstable.”
UESF members said their demand for higher wages is reasonable and would not “bankrupt” the school district. They pressed education leaders to dip into the SFUSD budget reserves to ensure that educators are paid adequately.
“Like many of the families we serve, many of our educators are struggling to stay in the San Francisco Bay Area,” said Susan Solomon, executive vice president of UESF. “They need respectable income so they can keep doing the work that they love and believe in.”
During a public comment session at Tuesday’s board meeting that stretched several hours, current and former teachers shared testimonies of their struggles in and outside of the classroom.
Ronique Williams, a fourth grade English language teacher and a mother of three, said she has been forced to take on a second job driving for Lyft to sustain her family.
“I’m trying by the skin of my teeth to maintain my home that has a $2,500 rental payment,” Williams said through tears. “I borrowed money from friends and family, and at this point I will never be able to pay them back.”
While the Board of Education members are not permitted to respond to comments made during public comment, President Shamann Walton told the San Francisco Examiner in September that the board “would never want to see [a strike] happen.”
“We want to keep our educators happy and our students excited about learning,” he said at the time.