Fresno Teachers Association leaders spelled out their frustrations with ongoing contract negations with Fresno Unified and then asked teachers to show their support for a strike authorization vote in October if there is no agreement by Sept. 29.
Hundreds of educators, nearly all clad in bright blue T-shirts, raised their hands high in the air to show the red wristbands that the union had distributed at the start of the rally on N Street in downtown Fresno Wednesday evening.
FTA President Manuel Bonilla asked the union members to show their support for three issues: Rejecting the district’s latest offer, submitting a “last, best and final” offer, and supporting a strike authorization vote in the fall. He received overwhelming support for all three.
Submitting a “last and best” offer is the next step in bargaining and could lead to mediation.
“FTA is taking the steps forward to legally force FUSD to give a formal answer or best offer as they have yet to address specifics, such as class size,” said Jon Bath, a union organizer and teacher at Sunnyside High.
A district official said the union submitted its best and final offer to the district while trustees were meeting.
‘Reimagining’ Plan Is More Than Pay Raises
The teachers union says that they are bargaining not only for higher pay and for benefits, but also for improvements that they say are needed for Fresno Unified to better serve its 70,000 students, and which they say the district has ignored.
The proposals include smaller class sizes, free food pantries at schools, free universal after-school programs, and 24-hour mental health services for students and families.
The union also is seeking raises totaling 27% and $27,500 in bonuses over this year and the next three years, plus other benefits.
“You’ll see headlines that the teachers want more money,” Bonilla said. “But we shouldn’t be afraid to ask to be paid what we’re valued.”
Paraprofessional employees, who assist teachers in classrooms, should be paid more than workers in fast-food restaurants, union officials said.
Fresno Unified, with a $2 billion annual budget, has seen its general fund climb 77% in the past five years, with a year-ending balance of $585 million, Bonilla said.
District Ready to Move Forward
District spokeswoman Nikki Henry said Wednesday evening that she wanted to clarify that Fresno Unified had not made an offer, which the union members agreed at the rally to reject, but instead had responded in writing to the union’s proposals as FTA had requested.
The district intends to present its first comprehensive proposal on June 1, “which has always been our plan,” she said.
What the union called its “last, best, and final offer” was actually its first offer, since the two sides had been using interest-based bargaining that depends on proposals and not formal offers, Henry said.
“It’ll be interesting to see what the next steps are, because to make your first offer also your best, last and final doesn’t really give much negotiation room,” she said.
Henry acknowledged that by this time four years ago the two sides had already reached agreement on a new contract, but that year the district and union engaged in traditional bargaining. This year they had attempted to use interest-based bargaining, which Henry said can take more than one contract before the two sides can successfully negotiate a labor pact.
“Some of the (IBB) trainers that we worked with shared with us that they work with districts, and sometimes it can take a decade to really get to a point where you can fully implement it because it’s very hard and it’s very different from traditional bargaining, right? So you have a lot of culture to unwind to get to that really trusting collaborative space,” she said. “And so I think we put down some good foundations this year that we can continue building on.”