On Wednesday, May 24, teachers in the Petaluma school district staged a one-day strike because of an ongoing labor dispute. The district’s teachers have been without a contract for nearly a year - negotiations for the 2016-2017 school year started Jan. 29, 2016 - and the main sticking point is a pay increase that they’ve been told isn’t possible because of a state-mandated increase in pension contributions. The current average class size of 24 students is also in dispute.
The Petaluma Federation of Teachers Local 1881 picketed at 12 sites in the district, on their website, they noted; “Petaluma Federation of Teachers picket lines at each school will call attention to the actions of Superintendent Gary Callahan, who misled our members regarding our worker rights. Treating others unfairly—and unlawfully—is not an example anyone should be setting for our students.”
Interviewed in another paper, union president Sandra Larsen stated; “This isn’t about money, it’s about respect. The main issue is retaining and respecting quality instructors during a teacher shortage.” In an open letter on the union site, she explains further, “The superintendent began his response with the statement “Petaluma City Schools is 100 percent committed to working towards maintaining competitive compensation for all employees.” He does not understand our concerns are about much more than money, they are about respect…the District has refused to agree to two non-tasked days to work in our classrooms and to giving us a 48-hour notice for all district level meetings. In addition, they are insisting that we give up our rights. Under current labor law, we have the right to concerted activities and the district is insisting we give away those rights!”
While this strike took place in Petaluma, it needs to be noted that teachers working in the Petaluma school district are often residing in towns close by, such as Cotati and Rohnert Park. Rising housing costs throughout Sonoma County mean that many teachers are unable to afford to live within the city where they’re teaching. While respect and teacher’s rights may be what’s touted as the driving force behind the strike, pay is a clear undercurrent.
Currently, there is no date for another negotiating session.