The loneliest place at a Fresno mega-church was the microphone designated for the opposition, clad with a red card. The only Fresno Teachers Association union member brave enough to approach the auditory device used it to encourage his fellow members to get along with the vote.

With overwhelming approval, teachers in Fresno Unified School District moved one big step closer to striking. The moment of truth came in the form of asking the estimated 2,500 members at Peoples Church to stand up and say “aye.” Nearly all did. As a formality, FTA President Tish Rice asked if anyone was opposed. Maybe five in total voiced their opposition.

And with that, the meeting ended. Now the clock is ticking.

No, the strike won’t happen immediately. It will be up to the FTA executive board to make the call on walking out. They have to wait until a third-party fact-finding panel conducts a study and releases its report.

The same restriction applies to the district. It cannot impose a contract on teachers until the fact-finding is completed. The fact-finding could take four to six weeks.

Thus when students break to celebrate Thanksgiving, they may not be returning to see their usual teachers.

“When we talk to parents and community leaders, they understand what we are fighting for. This is not just about salary and benefits. This is about changing the classroom learning environment,” Rice said.

Teachers See Three Big Remaining Issues

There are three main issues the union is fighting for: class size reduction, teacher pay increases and benefits, and a bigger voice in student discipline.

“We lose quality educators who flee this district because they are not happy with the working conditions and the student learning conditions,” Rice said. “They want to meet the needs of their students but they can’t because the class sizes are just too big because the district hasn’t addressed in a mindful way safety and discipline challenges that sites face, day in and day out.”

Fresno Unified has floated a proposal to pay substitute teachers $500 a day should there be a strike.

Substitutes are represented by their own union.

Rice spoke diplomatically about the group that may replace her union — although FTA criticized the $500 daily pay for substitutes in a Sept. 28 Twitter post.

“I would not call the substitutes ‘scabs.’ FASTA (the Fresno Area Substitute Teachers Association) has to do what they need to do in order to support their members and families,” Rice said. “They’ve been wonderful partners in the past with FTA. I really respect the leaders of FASTA.”

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