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FUSD Chief Says Teacher Demands Would 'Bankrupt District' Amid Union Strike Warning
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Published 9 months ago on
July 28, 2023

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A Fresno Unified teachers union leader is raising a new warning about a possible classroom strike early in the upcoming school year and says Superintendent Bob Nelson is misleading the community over ongoing contract negotiations.

“I honestly didn’t expect that teachers in FUSD would face the possibility of another strike vote so soon,” said Fresno Teachers Association board member Jon Bath, in a Facebook post on Thursday. In addition to his union role, Bath is a teacher at Sunnyside High School.

His comments came in response to an email the district sent to employees earlier in the day in which Nelson outlined key elements of Fresno Unified’s contract offer. Nelson said the district has put a “fiscally responsible package” on the table that “ensures the ongoing financial strength of Fresno Unified.”

Nelson Warns Union Demands Would ‘Bankrupt’ District

Demands from the teachers union “would bankrupt the district, eliminate essential student programs, cause layoffs, and halt necessary facilities improvements,” Nelson said.

Bath expressed frustration over what he described as the district’s “shameless manipulation of facts during negotiations.”

The current contract expired last month and the district and the union have been in discussions over a new contract since November. Relations between the union and the administration have become increasingly tense.

Earlier this year, teachers began attending Fresno Unified School Board meetings in large numbers and using hours of public comment time to express concerns about a variety of issues directly to trustees. Then, just before the end of the school year, the union held a public rally near the district’s headquarters. At the event, FTA leaders called on teachers to support a strike authorization vote if an agreement on a new contract is not reached by Sept. 29.

FTA ‘Fact Checks’ Nelson’s Claims

Efforts to Pressure School Board Members

Bath’s post on Facebook continued the union effort to pressure School Board members to intervene in contract talks.

“We need to see genuine efforts from the board members to lead and find common ground,” he said, above a photo of the district’s seven elected trustees. “While I believe the current school board consists of good-hearted people, there have been instances where Bob Nelson failed to uphold verbal promises, particularly related to improving healthcare,” Bath wrote.

Their latest pronouncements show how far the district and the FTA are from agreement on health insurance benefits. Nelson said the district offered to cut insurance premiums for all employees by 50% over the next three years. The union wants more, he said.

“FTA is also demanding Fresno Unified to revert to providing lifetime medical benefits for their members, at an estimated actuarial cost of $157.9 million,” according to Nelson’s email. He said the sum of all FTA’s financial demands would cost the district in excess of $2 billion over three years.

Bath accused the district of wanting to “dismantle the formula that has been funding our healthcare since 2005.”

Bath also said in a Facebook post below this story: “We teachers do not want to hurt our district or our students. We are asking for much more spending directly on students than on our ‘raises’ which are just the inflation amount COLA formula so the district isn’t losing any (money). It’s just giving employees the same increase as it allocates for all of its programs.”

Bath also held out hope — to a point — of avoiding a shutdown.

“I strongly believe that this ongoing dispute can be resolved through compromise,” he said, adding a caveat.

“If the District refuses to work with us and just says take it or leave it we have two choices. Accept it or go down the path of a strike vote and potential strike.”

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