Fresno Unified School District is moving forward with preparations to mitigate the impacts of a potential strike by the district’s 4,473 teachers after an apparent rejection of a state mediator’s proposed agreement last week.
District sources told GV Wire that last week’s fact-finding sessions by the Public Employment Relations Board panel culminated in a proposal by the state-appointed mediator that would boost teacher pay by more than 20% over the contract’s three years through a combination of annual pay hikes and one-time payments. The one-time payments in the second and third year of the contract would be tied to a reduction in the district’s contribution to the healthcare fund reserves.
The sources said the district supported the mediator’s recommended proposal.
District spokeswoman Nikki Henry and Fresno Teachers Association Manuel Bonilla did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment as to the outcome of last week’s factfinding sessions.
Later Monday, Henry said the two sides are awaiting the factfinder’s report, which is due within 30 days. “When that report is received it is meant to be another conversation point for the parties to continue negotiating. Following that, the report is made public,” she said.
But it appears that the union may have rejected the agreement proposed by the PERB factfinders, since Wednesday’s board agenda includes an emergency resolution that outlines the contract negotiations thus far and the steps that Superintendent Bob Nelson will be authorized to take if the teachers go on strike.
If teachers do walk out, it will mark the latest in a series of strikes among the state’s biggest school districts. In April, Los Angeles school staffers held a three-day strike that was honored by teachers and resulted in more pay for employees represented by the Service Employees International Union. The next month, Oakland teachers walked out over pay and working conditions, shuttering schools for eight days until the two sides reached agreement.
Bargaining Social Justice
The Fresno teachers union has signaled for a while that they and the district are far apart on the issues, which include pay, working conditions, and social justice proposals. In what’s known as “Bargaining for the Common Good,” the FTA included proposals to benefit families and students such as 24-hour access to mental health resources, free laundry services and food pantries, homeless families to park in high school parking lots, and providing free yoga classes for student and families.
There are also some proposals designed specifically to benefit school staff, such as requiring each school site to have district-paid, monthly staff lunches to celebrate birthdays, career milestones, and other important events; adding three mental health days on top of existing sick leave time; and piloting four-day school weeks at certain schools.
Some Fresno teachers may not be on board with what they perceive as the union’s “all or nothing” approach to negotiations, however.
One longtime teacher who asked not to be identified out of fear of retaliation said the union is muting teachers’ concerns about the contract proposals and negotiations.
The teacher said that not all teachers may be aware that the union has included social justice issues as well as pay, benefits, and working conditions because union representatives aren’t providing all the details at FTA meetings.
“We’ve never gone on strike over anything, but … this year it sounded like the FTA was in favor of us going on strike,” the teacher said.
District Makes Preparations
If a strike does happen, Nelson vowed before the start of the school year, the district will hire substitute teachers to keep classrooms open. The emergency resolution that’s up for consideration on Wednesday outlines the history of the current negotiations and the steps the district is prepared to take if teachers walk out.
According to the resolution, which is headlined “CONFIDENTIAL ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGED COMMUNICATION,” provides the following timeline:
The district and teachers union began collective bargaining negotiations in June 2022. In May the FTA submitted its last, best, and final offer” to the district and set a strike vote timeline. The two sides entered into mediation on July 24 with a state-appointed mediator; that same day the Public Employment Relations Board released the two sides to factfinding.
A fact-finding panel hears evidence on negotiation issues in dispute and provides findings and recommended terms for settlement.
In August “FTA issued information to members on frequently asked questions about negotiations and potential strikes and issued a strike authorization vote on October 18, 2023 if negotiations were not resolved by then,” the resolution says. The same month the union began circulating strike petitions among its members, according to the resolution. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the two sides participated in factfinding with factfinding panel chair Don Raczka, the resolution said.
What Happens If There Is a Strike
If a strike occurs, the resolution gives Nelson the authority to widen recruitment and hire substitutes from Nevada County north of Lake Tahoe to Kern County and offer them as much as $500 per day.
The resolution also spells out:
- Teachers who claim sick leave during the strike will need to provide a physician’s certification upon their return or be unpaid until they do so;
- Teachers and other school employees will need to immediately surrender their district-issued cellphones, laptops, grade books, attendance records, and pupil scholastic data, and the district will obtain assistance from the County Counsel or other legal counsel to enforce the return of district property;
- Nelson may hire people with and without teaching credentials and “special lecturers” during the strike, and pay them up to $500 per day;
- The superintendent has the authority to hire additional security, food, transportation, telephone, and other service providers, including independent contractors;
- Nelson can reassign or replace “any management, supervisory, and confidential employee who is performing in an unsatisfactory fashion during a strike;
- The superintendent can allow the use of volunteers at any school facility, but they will be under the direction of an employee who has been credentialed as a teacher or other job.
Henry said that while the two sides await the factfinder’s report, FUSD will continue to meet with FTA “as they are willing.”
The district has contract language with other unions representing Fresno Unified employees that forbids “sympathy strikes,” which require those unions to go through a negotiation process that includes mediation and factfinding before they can legally strike, she said.
Fresno is currently negotiating with other unions for new contracts, but none have threatened a strike vote at this time, Henry said.
The last time Fresno Unified trustees voted on an emergency resolution was in 2017, she said.