Sacramento teachers strike for third day amid COVID fallout

A crippling three-day teachers strike in Sacramento — fueled by pay issues, severe school staffing shortages and heavy workloads that have hit districts nationwide — showed cautious signs of progress Friday aimed at ending the walkout that has kept 43,000 students out of school.

Union leaders representing thousands of Sacramento teachers and school workers signaled optimism over a possible new round of bargaining at the request of State Supt. of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond.

The strike comes at a time when teachers throughout the state and nation are confronting the exhausting and challenging fallout from the pandemic. Protracted staffing shortages have compounded workloads. The stress of online learning has taxed teachers, parents and students alike. Educational recovery this academic year has been difficult as many students have struggled to adjust to in-person learning after months of isolation.

In Sacramento, these issues came to a head. And when teachers walked out Wednesday, school officials shut campuses.

“The SCUSD school board has been more focused on canceling school than negotiating ways to keep them open and staff them,” Sacramento City Teachers Assn. President and second-grade teacher David Fisher said in a statement.

The movement comes as Minneapolis’ teachers union reached a tentative agreement Friday to end a strike that started more than two weeks ago over limited resources amid a pandemic fallout.

At a rally Friday in Sacramento’s Cesar Chavez Park, Fisher announced that Thurmond called the Sacramento City Unified School District to meet at the bargaining table with teachers union leadership and the Service Employees International Union Local 1021, members of the school board, Sacramento Supt. Jorge A. Aguilar and the Sacramento County Office of Education.

While union leaders shared their readiness to meet, it was not immediately clear if all parties had agreed to negotiations.

“We have been trying to get this meeting for a very long time. The district has resisted, until we came together and took the step to go on strike and show everyone who really has the power,” Fisher said, before leading the crowd in a chant of “When we fight, we win!”

Aguilar issued a statement Friday after Thurmond’s call and requested that the teachers union offer a counterproposal to the district’s last proposal prior to the strike.

“With a counterproposal, the district’s negotiators are prepared to meet around the clock with SCTA so that we can bring our students on Monday,” Aguilar said.

The unions represent 2,800 teachers and 1,800 school employees and voted earlier this month to strike over serious staffing shortages, teachers said, despite federal funding and a district budget surplus that it could tap.

“A majority of the entire SCUSD workforce — classified staff, educators, and administrators — has declared no confidence in this superintendent and school board’s leadership,” SEIU 1021 SCUSD Chapter President Karla Faucett said in a statement.

The Sacramento City Unified School District canceled classes at its 76 schools after negotiations with the two unions failed. Teachers, school employees, parents and supporters marched Friday to City Hall.

“This is certainly something that is not ideal for our community,” Aguilar told ABC10 on Wednesday. “I’m hopeful that this will end very soon.”

Fisher said in a statement that without “serious movement at the bargaining table,” union members would begin door-to-door outreach among voters in board members’ districts.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg urged both sides to do everything possible to end the strike immediately.

“Both sides need to get to the table and they need to compromise. I know enough of this history to know that this has gotten very personal,” Steinberg said during an interview on television station KRCR-3. He helped mediate negotiations between the school district and teachers in 2017. “I want the strike to end, obviously, for the parents, the teachers, and mostly for the kids.”

“Kids have missed enough school. Their education and mental health are at stake,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “They will continue to suffer if the adults continue to fight among themselves.”

The school district is the second big U.S. district in recent weeks to see a work stoppage after teachers in Minneapolis walked off the job more than two weeks ago over limited resources amid a pandemic fallout. The teachers union reached a tentative agreement Friday to end the strike.

Tense negotiations have been underway elsewhere too. Teachers in the Mount Diablo district in the San Francisco Bay Area reached a tentative agreement on March 19, and in Sonoma County’s Cotati-Rohnert Park district, teachers returned to work March 17 after a six-day strike.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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