In a move that took even union representatives by surprise, more than 200 Oxnard elementary and intermediate school teachers took an informal vote to strike this fall if teachers and administrators fail to reach an agreement on salaries and benefits.
All 496 teachers in the district will vote on the issue in the next two weeks.
The vote took place at Oxnard's Driffel Elementary School on Tuesday at a meeting called by the Oxnard Educators Assn. to explain salary negotiations to teachers.
Members of the association, which represents the city's 496 elementary and junior high school teachers, have been negotiating with Oxnard Elementary School District officials for pay increases. The teachers' contract with the district expires in June, 1990, but agreement has yet to be reached on increases for the present fiscal year or the 1989-90 school year.
Frustrated by the impasse, the teachers at Tuesday's meeting voted almost unanimously to strike in September or October should the majority of the district's teachers agree.
Dick Wondoloski, the teacher who made the motion, said it was time that the teachers fought back.
"This community is behind us; they're on our side," said Wondoloski, a physical education teacher at Fremont Intermediate School. "They're tired of us being ripped off."
Wondoloski's comments brought resounding applause.
After the surprise vote, many of the teachers walked down the street to the administrative offices of the school district, then walked through the offices chanting and blowing whistles. The offices of many of the administrators involved in the contract negotiations, including Supt. Norm Brekke, are in the building.
After the meeting, Oxnard Education Assn. board member Mark Prim said he was happy with the teachers' decision. Prim, chairman of the teachers' bargaining team, said the district's offer of a 7% salary increase for the 1989-90 fiscal year and a 6.5% increase for 1990-91 was unacceptable.
Teachers don't want to strike, but an inflexible administration may force them to do so, Prim said. He said Tuesday's impromptu vote illustrated the teachers' solidarity.
"This is not a small group of militants as the district contends," Prim said. "This is definitely a vote of confidence for our position."
Although Tuesday's vote was, in essence, only a vote to hold a districtwide vote, Prim said he has no doubt that the majority of the district's teachers will vote to strike.
"It'll pass," Prim said. "This was solid support. . . . There are people that are real angry about this."
The Oxnard Education Assn. has sent a letter to state mediator Draza Mrvichin requesting certification for fact-finding. Implemented when two sides fail to reach an agreement, fact-finding brings in an independent third party to review the issues and make a report. District officials oppose this step, saying it will only lengthen negotiations that already have lasted a year.
Brekke questioned the legality of the proposed strike. According to Brekke, the teachers' existing contract has a clause that makes striking illegal. Brekke also questioned the wisdom of a strike when "the potential for further discussion and some agreements are there."
"I think that if the union is seriously interested in sitting down, there is the potential, in my judgment, for a resolution," he said. "Our differences are not so great."
Prim acknowledged that a strike would violate the contract but said "the district has already broken that contract so many times by their unilateral actions . . . that they have made it almost insignificant."
Teachers have filed 11 unfair labor practice charges against the district, he said.
Prim said the union will abide by state collective-bargaining procedures and will refrain from striking until the fact-finding process is concluded.