Our contract extension was approved: Where do we go from here?

Our contact extension was approved: where do we go from here?

By Jairo Monterrojo from the SF Movement of Rank and File Educators (3/9/2022)

On Tuesday, March 1st, the SF Board of Education approved the tentative agreement reached between UESF and SFUSD. After contentious debate and much confusion as to its significance, 56% of our members voted to approve this contract extension, with 44% of our members voting. In our leadership’s own words, this 1-year contract represents a win for members due to the two one-time payments we will be receiving and the reopener clause that will allow bargaining for pay increases for all staff members. They also admit to painful concessions that were the center of debate: the one-year pauses on teacher sabbaticals and Advanced Placement preparation periods, the latter which will lead to further loss of staff and funding for school sites. While the benefits and drawbacks of this extension can continue to be debated, the fact is that the sense of frustration and alienation experienced by large sectors of UESF members—and not only those who lost AP preps, but also elementary and SPED educators who did not receive the additional preps and support they’ve needed for years—will make it increasingly challenging to mount a unified UESF campaign against budget cuts and for school improvements. When a union accepts concessions without any kind of a fightback, it is a demoralizing experience for our members. As an organizing caucus, SFMORE seeks to build a unified movement that can use our strength to push back against these attacks on our schools.

The coming fiscal year in California, beginning this summer, presents another historic increase in funding for public education. Our union leaders have stated that they plan to fight for this money in addition to those funds provided in last Fall’s state education budget that SFUSD schools did not receive. UESF rightly states in its talking points for the last BOE meeting that SFUSD intends to balance its budget on our already under-staffed schools. We should consider any cuts to layoffs or student services to be completely unacceptable—given that our district received significant COVID funds higher than our district’s deficit, there is no justification for layoffs or cuts of any kind. SFUSD’s insistence that they must cut from our sites—they’ve already sent out approximately 400 layoff notices—due to under enrollment is also ridiculous; our schools need far more staff and resources than we have if we’re to hold our schools together and serve our students. The negative impact of the pandemic and the cost of living in large urban centers like the Bay Area play a huge role in the loss of students, and our schools cannot be held responsible for these harsh realities. We need far more than what we have and the means exist to fully fund our schools.

The Organizing for Union Power slate, our new leadership since last Spring, ran on a platform of organizing our sites and mobilizing our members. So far, there have been petitions, online campaigns, the one rally in December, and the recent petition and the proposed class action lawsuit in response to the disastrous Empower system. These tactics of online petitions, “tool kits”, one off rallies and lawsuits clearly can be marginally useful, but they need to be a part of a larger strategy that centers coordinated site actions and preparations to strike; this is what can build the confidence and unity we need in order to win because it focuses on our greatest source of leverage: our ability shut our sites down and disrupt the status quo. When members did site mobilizations, such as the info rallies in September around Covid safety and the sickout in January, SFMORE and rank and file members led the charge. It was no coincidence that after both of these events, we received the Covid air filters and the PPE denied to us for so long.

UESF leadership promises to organize a strong contract fight that can win improvements for our schools using the increased education funding projected for the Fall of 2022. However, the fiscal year begins in July while our members leave their sites in June. That leaves us barely two and a half months to prepare our members to demand the increased funds. So far, UESF has not rolled out a plan, nor started to educate the members about the issues we face. To win next year, we will have to do things differently than this one; we will need to prepare our members to develop contract strategy and be ready to strike! The strike is our most powerful weapon and even just the build up to a strike that threatens a shut down can force the distinct to concede to our demands.

To be more specific, our union leadership should actively organize site-based discussions to determine our members’ priorities in bargaining and to share the results of these discussions with our entire membership. Furthermore, a union-wide contract action team - or an equivalent organizing body open to rank and file members - should be developed so that our rank and file leaders, representing the diversity of sites and programs in our district - can collectively decide on bargaining strategy. This can give us the leverage, unity, and clarity to begin collective site actions that measure our strength and build our capacity to fight. Finally, such a strategy of escalating member actions needs to include a solid strike fund that gives our members confidence that they will be taken care of during a potential strike.

Such actions can and should have a regional component. Oakland public schools are facing a devastating series of school closures while SF and surrounding districts continue to suffer cuts. This austerity program is justified by the powers-that-be with the false idea that we’re under enrolled’ and need to downsize. The reality is that the capitalist privatizers penetrating our school district are waging class warfare against our school communities and we must respond with a unified and militant fightback. They want to turn our schools into profit-making machines that dilute quality education and weaken unions. Our fight is for the well-being and the soul of our public school communities and for a school system that prioritizes human/student needs over those of bureaucrats and privatizers.

SFMORE is committed to building this struggle; email us at sfmore415@gmail.com or visit our website to get in touch with us.