HAYWARD, Calif. — Solidarity filled the air April 6 as hundreds of parents, students and community supporters gathered in Birchfield Park to express their backing for striking Hayward teachers. Some 1,300 teachers represented by the Hayward Education Association struck April 5, outraged because after months of talks the administration is offering them only a small increase while giving substantial raises to administrators the teachers say are already highly paid.

About 20,000 K-12 students attend school in Hayward, a largely working-class community across the bay from San Francisco.

“My kids were up early this morning, getting ready to come to this rally,” Terrie Niu, mother of four children in the Hayward schools, told the crowd. “I asked them, can I have a break? They said, ‘absolutely not!’

“I support the teachers 100 percent,” said Niu, a stay-at-home mom, adding, “The only other people who spend all day with my kids are the teachers. It’s a shame the superintendent gets all that money, and he doesn’t even know my kids’ names.”

A highlight of the day was the participation of Dolores Huerta, legendary co-founder of the United Farm Workers union. “This is so awesome to see this unity standing here before me, to know that you are fighting for justice, not only for teachers, but also for the students,” Huerta said, before leading participants in chants of “Sí, se puede!”

“Next to farmworkers, who feed us, teachers are the most important workers,” Huerta said after the rally. “If we don’t have education, we can’t have democracy,” she added, calling teachers “the glue that keeps society together.”

Teachers union leaders from school districts for miles around came to express their support. Many announced pledges to the strike fund.

Nelly Obligacion of SEIU Local 1021, which represents food service and other school workers, told the crowd, “Building a culture of excellence means a fair contract for teachers and all classified employees.”

Stating proudly that she is “a product of the Hayward schools,” Mayra Canizales, a 2004 graduate now at the University of California-Berkeley, recalled, “It was teachers, not administrators, who taught me to read, helped me get to UC Berkeley.” Canizales said she wants to return to teach in the Hayward schools.

Several middle-school teachers in the crowd expressed outrage at the administration’s stance. “I’ve taught here for eight years, and I’m only getting what I was paid working in the computer industry 20 years ago,” said one. “Teachers do what they do because they want to teach more than anything else,” she added. “Not to be treated and paid as a professional is an insult.”

Hayward teachers average $65,000 a year, with newer teachers earning far less. They are demanding a 16 percent raise over two years, but the district is offering only a 3 percent one-time bonus for the current year, plus 7 percent in the next school year and an additional 1.6 percent to be funded by savings from the retirement of veteran teachers. At the same time, teachers, say, the district hiked top administrators’ pay nearly 17 percent this year.

The union says low pay has caused over 100 teachers to leave the system during this school year, and some 500 during the past three years.

Though it is not explicitly on the table, health care looms over the talks, as it does in virtually every labor struggle. Mercedes Faraj, HEA vice president and negotiating committee chair, said one reason teachers are so upset is that while about $5,000 is added to their salaries as compensation for paying their own health care, many families must pay far more. The Hayward system ranks lowest in compensation among eight comparable districts that handle health coverage in that way, Faraj said.

Though Hayward teachers are now the only California educators on strike, teachers in several other Bay Area districts have reached impasse in negotiations. In all, salaries and health coverage loom large.

The California Teachers Association points out that more money is now available for salary and health benefit increases as well as class size reductions, after CTA won an additional $2 billion in ongoing money for schools in the current state education budget, the biggest increase in public education funds in a decade.

mbechtel @ pww.org