Teachers announce second strike at Sacramento City Unified School District

The Sacramento City Teachers Association, embroiled in a labor dispute with the financially troubled Sacramento City Unified School District, announced Tuesday that it will hold its second one-day strike on May 22.

The teachers union made the announcement at a press conference at its Sacramento headquarters, joined by leaders from the California Teachers Association, Oakland Education Association, United Teachers of Los Angeles, Sacramento Central Labor Council, Service Employees International Union Local 1000, California Nurses Association and others.

SCTA President David Fisher on Tuesday declared the union’s first strike successful. He said the April 11 walkout, protesting alleged unfair labor practices, was kept to one day to minimize impact on students but pressured the district to “finally acknowledged that all solutions need to be on the table, including reducing the superintendent’s salary and chopping from the top.”

However, he said the district still is not honoring its labor agreement “and may force another strike on May 22.”

On that same date, the California Teachers Association is holding a “Day of Action” at the Capitol in Sacramento.

In a district statement Tuesday, board President Jessie Ryan said, “On May 22nd rather than striking, we should join forces to demand full and fair funding at CTA’s #RedforEd Capitol Action Day.”

Sacramento City Unified is $35 million in the red, and the second strike would come weeks before the deadline to identify deep cuts and balance its budget by the end of June or face a takeover by the state.

“SCTA leaders have announced another strike at a time when our district is running out of money, on the brink of insolvency and state takeover,” Superintendent Jorge Aguilar said in the district statement. “This strike will once again have a negative impact on our students, particularly those with the greatest needs.

“That is why our schools will once again be open on May 22nd. It is our hope that rather than go on strike, SCTA leaders will join forces with us so we can march to the Capitol together on May 22nd to request more funding for our schools.”

Fisher said that the district has time to honor the contract and avert the strike.

The strikes stem from allegations by the teachers union that the district is not honoring its 2017 agreement, including directing health-plan savings strictly toward reducing class sizes and funding more health workers and counselors.

One of the district’s health plans, HealthNet, was restored for teachers and early retirees after the district unilaterally eliminated the health plan in a controversial move in 2015.

Aguilar sent a letter to the teachers union Monday stating the district agrees that “when and if changes to the current health plan providers offered to SCTA members (HealthNet and Kaiser) are made and our budget issues are resolved, savings from those changes should go to improving services for students.”

But the district says that since the teachers union has yet to negotiate changes, approximately $11 million of the district’s dollars went to the health insurance company last year to cover employee health benefits. That scenario is set to repeat itself this year, the district says.

“The district has been and remains ready to make health plan provider changes as soon as SCTA is ready,” Aguilar stated in his letter.

It’s unclear what support will look like for a second one-day strike.

Just before the April strike, a parent group was created called Parents United to Restore Our Schools to help mobilize those concerned about a potential state takeover.

“We love our teachers, but the sad truth is that the kids that showed up on the day of the strike were kids that had parents who didn’t have the luxury of calling in sick or hiring a babysitter,” said group co-founder Sawit Seyoum, a parent of two children in the district.

According to a district tally, about 48 percent of Sacramento City Unified’s 42,000 students did not attend class and about 86 percent of the 2,240 SCTA members did not show up to work on April 11. The teachers union said it believed 98 percent of teachers picketed on strike day.

Separately, the district and the teachers union have been locked in a dispute over terms in their current contract. The district had asked a Sacramento Superior Court judge to determine whether there was an agreement over how to distribute a 3.5 percent salary adjustment for early and mid-career teachers.

Aguilar on Tuesday said an arbitrator ordered by the judge will make a decision on the contract dispute by Thursday. A decision could come even sooner than that, he said.

Follow more of our reporting on Sacramento City Unified in Crisis

See all 10 stories
Related stories from Sacramento Bee

Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.