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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Oakland Teachers Don't Strike, But One Day Off Is Given - Knight Ridder

Oakland teachers, district reach deal

STRIKE IS CANCELED, BUT STUDENTS ARE STILL GIVEN THE DAY OFF

By Kimberly S. Wetzel
Knight Ridder

A one-day Oakland teachers strike set for today has been called off after teachers and district officials announced a tentative contract agreement ending two years of labor unrest.

The president of the teachers union, Ben Visnick, told KRON-TV on Wednesday night that today will remain a day off for students, but that teachers could come to school, with pay, for voluntary staff development exercises. He also said an afternoon rally for teachers was planned at an Oakland park. Among the sticking points finally resolved Wednesday night was a dispute over health care.

In back-to-back news conferences Wednesday, the union and district had said significant progress was made during marathon talks that started Tuesday night and continued through late Wednesday.

But both sides had braced for the worst, as the union announced it was moving forward with strike plans and the Oakland Unified School District asked parents not to send their children to school for safety reasons.

``There is a slight chance we won't strike,'' Visnick said earlier.

The district had declared a state of emergency for today and discouraged students from attending school. District officials said they were asking children not to attend because they believed members of other unions might have joined in as sympathy strikers, which could have posed a safety hazard.

Signs that negotiations were going well were apparent Wednesday evening. Montez said the union and district were ``getting closer on sticking points such as health care,'' and Visnick had said, ``We are making progress.''

The teachers union, which set a deadline of noon Wednesday for a decision on whether to move forward with strike plans, extended that deadline indefinitely after state Administrator Randolph Ward personally contacted Visnick and requested a meeting. The pair met through the afternoon and early evening with other bargaining members in a last-ditch attempt to hash out a contract.

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