On April 3, after eight workdays, the Sacramento City Unified School District strike that demanded fair compensation, healthcare benefits and safe staffing levels ended with two agreements for the teachers and classified staff. These workers are represented respectively by Sacramento City Teachers Association and Service Employees International Union 1021.
This major win was ratified on April 7, with both teachers and classified staff getting a 4% salary increase and their health insurance covered by the district. In addition, SCTA members will get a 3% one-time stipend for 2019-2020 and 2022-2021. Substitute teacher daily rate will increase by 25%, with an additional 14 days of sick leave for those who test positive for Covid-19. SEIU 1021 members, in addition to the 4% salary increase, will be receiving at least $7,000 in one-time stipends. School bus drivers will be receiving an extra $2,000 in recognition of their exceptional service when the department is very short-staffed. A full list of the negotiation outcomes can be seen here.
The Sacramento educators exhibited tremendous fortitude and determination during a difficult time for schools in the region. As of 2022, SCUSD sits on an unusually high surplus yet fails to provide reasonable working and learning conditions with many students missing learning and worsening staff compensation.
During the negotiation phase, the district refused to negotiate and instead stuck to its position of austerity. On March 9, Superintendent Aguilar sent out “an inflammatory and misleading email” that blatantly omitted key facts and made false claims about the status of negotiations and proposed compensation for substitutes and nurses, according to SCTA. In addition, two complaints were made by the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) against the district. Following months of little to no movement in negotiations, an impasse was declared and a neutral fact-finder was requested on behalf of SCUSD. When this neutral fact-finder was jointly appointed by both parties, the district refused to accept the recommendations put forth by the fact-finder while the SCTA was ready to put the findings into practice.
Despite the real hardship that came with participating in the strike, given that some workers live just around or above the poverty line, members of both unions showed remarkable organization and strength. Olivia Minor, a 10-year veteran bus driver with SEIU 1021, understands what it means to organize and fight back in the face of hardship:
“This is not a game. This is a power struggle. These past three years we have really had to focus on this because we are hitting a crisis. Economic, covid, every type of crisis. But if we go back, in 2014, I remember protesting for the fight for $15 in front of a McDonald’s. This is not my first rodeo. I am very passionate about this. I love my students. I am a member of this community and my children belong to this school district and I am not going anywhere. We are going to make this place better.”
The solidarity between these two powerful unions fighting alongside each other paved the way for the eventual contract victory. The strike would not have been so successful without the high degree of coordination and solidarity by staff and teachers across dozens of campus sites from each union ranging from membership engagement to consistent signage, chants, speeches, and timely communication on social media and websites.
SCTA prepared bilingual flyers, FAQ for the community and activities for children to do at home during the strike. As many SEIU 1021 members have to work multiple jobs, they created a GoFundMe page to gather donations to support staff enduring economic hardships during the strike. The union’s strike fund has received hundreds of donations from the community. The overwhelming support from the community and among union members motivated the teachers and staff of Sacramento throughout the strike – a message to the district that the demands of Sacramento teachers and staff are serious, compelling and had power behind them.
The strength of the strike was magnified by the broad and concrete support from the community. Many parents and students marched with teachers and staff. The diversity of Sacramento was on display each day of the strike as the picket lines swelled with enthusiasm and support for a fair contract and a return to school. As days passed without an agreement or even a response from District administrators, the determination of educators and community members only continued to grow.
This determination reached new heights on day seven of the strike, when Sacramento City Parents for Progress camped out overnight at the SCUSD office to put more pressure on the district to come to an agreement. In addition to parents, members from other unions such as the United Farm Workers and Oakland Education Association showed up in solidarity to support the struggle for quality public education. Only one day later, facing further creative direct action by the workers and their allies, the district would capitulate and the strike concluded.
“This is a win for the entire SCUSD community,” says Karla Faucett, chapter president for SEIU 1021, “this agreement shows that when school workers stand together with educators for what’s right and refuse to back down, we win!” This major victory comes at the same time as the Amazon Warehouse in New York became the first to unionize, as well as several successful unionization victories at corporate giant Starbucks in recent months.
Educators and staff in Sacramento demonstrated their collective power in the fight for public education and better working conditions. As workers realize our collective strength in the labor movement, more doors open for the working class to organize and change society in fundamental and transformative ways.