Chukchansi Park seemed an appropriate place Wednesday afternoon for Fresno Teachers Association President Manuel Bonilla to talk about how the new teachers contract is a home run.
Instead of runs, hits, and errors, the outfield scoreboard was emblazoned with “We Did It! FTA Ratification Vote.”
Teachers, many with family members, had come down to the ballpark to cast their vote on the proposed three-year pact, eat a hot dog, and chat with friends as Bonilla and other union leaders talked about why it was time to celebrate.
The union announced later Wednesday that the rank-and-file membership had approved the new deal with 92% of the votes cast. It now moves to the School Board for ratification at tonight’s meeting. The contract ratification was a last-minute addition and doesn’t appear on the board’s amended agenda, but is included as a separate document online with agenda number B-28.
Update: The board voted 7-0 Wednesday evening to approve the contract.
Teachers were less than 24 hours from going on strike when district and union officials announced Tuesday morning that they had reached tentative agreement on a new three-year collective bargaining agreement that both sides described as “historic.”
‘Historic’ Contract for Teachers
At Chukchansi Park on Wednesday, Bonilla explained that any of a number of contract items would have been sufficient to earn the label “historic,” but the combination of them — the resumption of lifetime health benefits for longtime employees, the “three-pronged” approach to solve the district’s classroom overcrowding problem that includes having access to school bond facilities money, salary increases that are not only across the board but also will raise beginning salaries to above average and add dollars for veteran teachers at the top end of the salary scale — “it’s an absolutely amazing deal for this community,” he said.
Teachers will get an 8.5% pay raise retroactive to the start of the school year, plus pay raises totaling 3% and 4.5% over the next two years, and one-time bonuses of $2,500 in the second and third years.
But Bonilla acknowledged that not all teachers are so enamored with the pact, some of whom had posted on social media their disappointment with salary gains, insufficient classroom size limits, and the fact that the tentative deal was being announced Tuesday before most teachers had an opportunity to review it.
Some teachers even questioned why the strike was called off before the members could take a ratification vote.
“When you have a tentative agreement, you essentially initial and say that we believe that this is the agreement and then you release that to the general membership and then they have an opportunity to vote,” Bonilla said. “Quite frankly, if a majority of our folks said absolutely not, that actually puts us back into the bargaining process. So either way, everybody has a voice in this process, and so we’ll await the results.”
Like last month’s strike authorization vote, Wednesday’s ratification voted was being conducted by phone and email by the American Arbitration Association, he said.
The deadline for voting was 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Party Zone Instead of Strike Central
Teachers didn’t have to come to Chukchansi Park to cast their ballots, Bonilla said. The union had reserved the ballpark as a central location to serve lunch to striking teachers, and when the strike was called off union officials decided to hold the ratification vote celebration there instead, he said.
“We said, ‘let’s provide this space to be able to do the vote and just celebrate our unity,'” he said.
Whereas the strike authorization vote passed with 93% of the votes cast — and a participation rate among FTA members of 92.5% — the ratification vote passed by almost the same high approval, garnering 92% of the votes cast.