With only a week before Fresno Unified teachers are scheduled to go on strike if they don’t have a contract, the two sides appear to be intensifying their negotiations.
Superintendent Bob Nelson told GV Wire on Wednesday that the two sides negotiated late into the evening on Tuesday and are scheduled to resume early Thursday morning.
In the meantime, the two sides “are codifying our discussions,” he said.
Fresno Teachers Association President Manuel Bonilla did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for comment.
On GV Wire’s “Unfiltered” podcast on Tuesday, Nelson talked about the district’s contract offer that includes a 14% pay hike over three years plus two 2.5% pay hikes in the second and third years, for a total of 19%. The district also is offering to provide a “bridge to Medicare” for staffers who retire after at least 20 years of service and who are at least age 57 1/2, guaranteeing district-paid health care until they qualify for Medicare.
The union has identified four major points of contention: salaries need to keep up with the rate of inflation, the district should maintain the current healthcare fund contribution, and class sizes and special education caseloads must be reduced.
Class Sizes ‘A Sticking Point’
The class size issue “still seems to be a sticking point,” Nelson said on “Unfiltered.” “That was one of the key things that we’re working on in our discussions with them today.”
The two sides began negotiating a new contract in November 2022, attempting to use a style of negotiation known as interest-based bargaining. But by May they had not reached an agreement, and at a downtown rally teachers showed consensus for scheduling a strike authorization vote in October. The same night they delivered their “last, best, and final offer” to the School Board.
The following month the district declared an impasse and sought mediation from the Public Employment Relations Board. After a hearing in September, the fact-finder panel issued a series of recommendations that prompted the district to revise its contract offer. However, thousands of union members met on Oct. 18 at the Fresno Fairgrounds and then began electronic voting on the strike authorization question.
On Tuesday, Bonilla announced the results of the vote: 92% of the dues-paying membership had participated in the election, and of them, 93.5% voted in favor of authorizing a strike. The union’s executive board then moved to schedule a strike on Wednesday, Nov. 1 if there is no contract by then.
The last Fresno teachers strike was in 1971.