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FUSD Says Teachers Are Mulling Strike Authorization Vote. FTA Says They Aren’t.



Contract tensions are rising between the district, led by Superintendent Bob Nelson, and the FTA, led by its president, Manual Bonilla. (GV Wire File)
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Fresno Unified School District says the teachers union is not only veering from an agreed-upon method of contract negotiation but also is considering a strike authorization vote.

“Fresno Unified has received information that leads one to believe FTA plans to take a Strike Authorization Vote amongst their membership on Tuesday, April 25,” the district said in a news release Thursday evening. “While a Strike Authorization Vote is not actionable at this time, as we are in a closed contract with FTA through June 30, 2023, this vote would show us that FTA has no intention of continuing with a collaborative IBB process.”

Portrait of Fresno Teachers Association President Manuel Bonilla

“In regards to their claim that they have knowledge of the strike authorization, though, that’s absolutely absurd.” — FTA President Manual Bonilla

Manual Bonilla, Fresno Teachers Association president, on Friday morning denied that the union is planning a strike authorization vote Tuesday, or at any time at least for now.

Bonilla accused district leaders of resorting to “middle school gossip antics.”

“I think it’s a desperate and pathetic attempt by the district to distract from the fact that they don’t have a plan to address the needs of educators,” he said. “In regards to their claim that they have knowledge of the strike authorization, though, that’s absolutely absurd.”

Tuesday’s meeting for FTA members will be held virtually, whereas members would need to be present if a strike authorization vote was being held, Bonilla noted.

IBB vs. Traditional Bargaining

IBB refers to the “interest-based bargaining” type of negotiations to which the district and FTA agreed upon in January. Interest-based bargaining is a process in which two sides collaborate to find a “win-win” in contract talks by identifying shared interests and positions rather than exchanging formulated proposals.

According to the district, the two sides reaffirmed their commitment to interest-based bargaining in February when they entered IBB training. But recent actions indicate the union is continuing to use traditional bargaining tactics, including submitting an almost 30-page document “with specific proposed language, rather than high-level interests, which more closely resembles positional bargaining,” the district said. “Bringing these individually formulated proposals, instead of interests, stunts the ability to brainstorm and collaborate on shared solutions, as is expected in IBB.”

Bonilla acknowledged that the union has asked the district to respond to its interests and also has requested specificity from the district to clarify its interests, including a proposal to transfer teachers.

“It’s hard to have a conversation if we don’t know exactly what you mean by that …, ” he said. “We need something on paper to understand what it is that you mean, so that way we don’t walk away from that conversation thinking that you meant one thing and you meant something else, right? And they have yet to provide us anything in regards to that. And that’s just not respectful of our educators’ time and expertise.”

The union, which represents the district’s 4,261 teachers, has organized a series of presentations by teachers, parents, and students at the start of recent School Board meetings calling for more school safety, less required meeting time for teachers, and not evaluating teachers according to student academic performance.

Current Contract Was Signed Early

The current contract, which was signed in 2019, was noteworthy in part because it was finalized prior to the end of the old contract. In years past, failures to reach an agreement have led the teachers union to the brink of striking. The three-year contract, which had been scheduled to expire in June 2022, was extended by a year as a result of side letters signed during the COVID pandemic.

The district recently signed a new three-year contract with the Service Employees International Union Local 521, which represents 791 blue-collar employees including bus drivers and maintenance workers.

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email