Feb. 21 (UPI) -- Thousands of teachers, nurses and counselors in Northern California walked off the job Thursday for a labor strike that's followed a number of similar movements nationally in recent months.
Nearly 3,000 Oakland Unified School District employees began picketing Thursday over class sizes, pay, looming school closures and other problems. The district made an offer Tuesday -- its first since November -- that teachers rejected. The negotiations will continue Friday morning, officials said.
Some students planned to skip school Thursday and Friday to support the teachers and some planned to attend "solidarity schools" set up by striking teachers at community centers.
One of the driving factors in the walkout is gentrification and the skyrocketing cost of living in the Bay Area, which has some of the priciest real estate in the nation. Teachers want a 12 percent pay raise over the next three years and more counselors and nurses -- a similar request to what other striking educators have demanded in recent years. The Oakland district has so far offered far less -- a 5 percent raise.
The district's offer "will not keep pace with inflation," state arbitrator Najeeb Khoury said in a fact-finding report. "It is also clear that OUSD will have a very difficult time affording a 12 percent raise over three years, as it is in a structural deficit."
Oakland High School history teacher Will Corvin shares a three-bedroom house with several other teachers because he can't afford a one-bedroom apartment. He earned $46,500 last year before taxes.
"It's a job I really enjoy and get a lot of satisfaction from. It's something that I hope to be able to continue to do," he said.
School district spokesman John Sasaki said 75 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunches and the schools offer students a free dinner before they go home.
"We have done a lot more for our kids than other school districts," Sasaki said. "A lot of that is because in the city of Oakland, there's a lot more need."
Teachers in West Virginia went on strike earlier this week, but the walkout ended Thursday after just two days when lawmakers dropped a bill that would've tied teacher raises to funding charter schools. The House of Delegates killed that proposal Tuesday but teachers feared it would re-emerge so they continued the protest Wednesday.
"Educators agreed to return to their classes on Thursday," American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia President Fred Albert said.
West Virginia educators successfully staged a separate strike last year demanding a 5 percent pay raise. The move was followed soon after by similar teacher strikes in Oklahoma, Arizona, Los Angeles and Denver.