Fresno Unified’s teachers will go on strike Nov. 1 if there is no contract agreement with the district by then, Fresno Teachers Association President Manual Bonilla told reporters Tuesday morning.
Bonilla said that an overwhelming majority of participating teachers voted yes in the strike authorization vote that began last Wednesday after a massive pep rally-style meeting at the Fresno Fairgrounds. The American Arbitration Association conducted the electronic election.
This Friday teachers will be outside schools to speak with parents about the upcoming strike deadline and will conduct “family-friendly” pickets at schools and the downtown Education Center starting Nov. 1, he said.
Fresno Unified has received record revenues and is sitting on record reserves, while spending record amounts for top officials’ compensation, consultants, and PR, Bonilla said.
“It shouldn’t be difficult to come to consensus for our students,” he said. “Yet the district and FTA cannot be further apart. Suffice it to say, our teachers are tired. They’re tired of the empty promises, the nonsense slogans, the highly paid administrators paying lip service to solving real issues on our campuses.”
Out of Time
Bonilla said the last time teachers authorized a strike was in 1978, when FTA was half its current size. Of the 59% of the membership who voted, 61% voted to strike that year, he said. This month the turnout was 92% of the dues-paying membership, or about 4,000 teachers, of whom 93.% voted to strike, he said.
“During the course of negotiations, it has become abundantly clear that Superintendent Nelson is disconnected from the realities of a classroom, out of sync with our district’s needs, and now he’s out of time,” Bonilla said. “It’s time for the Fresno Unified School Board of Trustees to meet the moment, lead the district, and deliver a deal that values its educators and puts our students in our school district on a path for a brighter future.”
Fresno Unified will issue a response at 11 a.m., spokeswoman Nikki Henry said.
The two sides are scheduled to resume negotiations this afternoon.
Build-Up to Strike Vote
The momentum to the strike authorization had been gradually building in recent weeks. The two sides began their negotiations in November 2022 on a new three-year contract but made little headway in the course of the intervening months.
At a downtown rally in May the assembled teachers showed by consensus their support for scheduling a strike authorization vote in October.
In June the district declared an impasse and filed for mediation with the Public Employment Relations Board, which assigned a fact-finding panel.
The fact-finder’s final report, made public earlier this month by the district, chastised the two sides for their disrespectful and untrustworthy behavior during the fact-finder hearing and recommended a 14% pay raise over three years, plus a $5,000 one-time payment this year and 2.5% one-time payments in the second and third year.
The fact-finder supported the district’s plan to lower the per-employee contribution to the health fund from $24, 370 to $21,000 in exchange for ongoing and one-time salary boosts. The PERB mediator also recommended that the threshold for a classroom categorized as overcrowded be lowered. Teachers in overcrowded classrooms are paid extra. The mediator also recommended that the two sides continue to discuss lowering special education caseloads outside of the contract in interest-based bargaining.
The union has held fast to its list of demands: teacher pay should be tied to the rate of inflation, no cuts to the district’s health fund contribution, and lower class sizes and special education caseloads.
How far apart are the two sides?
“We’re very far apart. I mean, when you want to cut our health fund in order to pay for salary increases below inflation and they say that ‘we do not want to reduce class sizes or special education caseloads,’ that’s far apart,” Bonilla said. “If you talk to any educator, you know that these are the priorities that will help transform public education. And if you talk to parents, these are the priorities that they want in their classroom as well.”
How Long Might a Strike Last?
Bonilla said the union still hopes that a strike may be averted. But if it happens, “we don’t know how long it will be. Obviously, a strike is shorter with more folks out on the line and less students in the classroom. And so we again hope that the community will reach out to board members because these are the priorities of our community as well.”
Should Students Go to School?
Bonilla said that despite the district’s assurances that it will be able to continue educating students with certificated substitute teachers — the district says it has lined up 2,100 in case of a strike — “The district has spent $3 million for what amounts to packets that they’re going to give as students come in. That is not quality education.”
What About After-School Sports?
Concerns have been raised as to whether the strike will impact after-school athletics, including high school sports. The district said in a Q&A to parents that all after-school activities other than after-school extended day programs would be cancelled, but at last week’s School Board meeting Nelson said the district is seeking a plan to keep athletics going during a strike.
Bonilla said that the decision of whether to continue sports programs is the district’s decision. “I think it only shows how valuable our educators are because a lot of people don’t know that the way sports is currently staffed is by volunteer teachers,” he said.