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Strike Vote Is Tonight, but Union Says Fresno Teachers Will Be in Classrooms Thursday



FTA members showed support for a strike authorization vote at a downtown rally in May. (GV Wire/Nancy Price)
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Fresno teachers will vote Wednesday night on whether to authorize their union’s executive board to call a strike because they have been working without a contract since the start of the school year.

“The ball is into the board’s hands and Superintendent Nelson’s hands, that they’re going to prioritize the classroom.” — Manuel Bonilla, president, Fresno Teachers Association

But the results of their vote might not be immediately released, Fresno Teachers Association President Manuel Bonilla told GV Wire Wednesday morning in his union office.

If teachers do vote to authorize a strike tonight, they will be back in their classrooms Thursday morning, he said.

“Just so the community knows that the plan is not to — even if it was authorized tonight, the plan is not to have an actual work stoppage tomorrow,” Bonilla said. “We want to make sure that we do our due diligence in letting people know, both internally and externally, and it’s not going to be something that is secret. Everything that we’ve done has always been communicated ahead of time.”

Bonilla said that before the night is out the union will announce when the strike vote results will be released.

The union has rented the Paul Paul Theatre at the Fresno Fairgrounds for a rally that begins at 5:30 p.m.

The voting is being conducted by the American Arbitration Association, Bonilla said. Hiring an independent, third-party organization to conduct the vote gives reassurance to the union members and the community that the vote has been conducted fairly, he said.

The cost to the union to conduct the vote, including renting the theater, is a few thousand dollars, he said.

Last Strike Vote was in 2017

Bonilla said about 2,400 members attended the last strike authorization vote that was held at Peoples Church in October 2017, and he expects as many, if not more, at tonight’s vote.

Teachers in October 2017 authorized a strike, but the union and district were able to hammer out an agreement three months later without a walkout.

Today, Bonilla said, the two sides are still far apart on four main issues:

  • Tying teacher salary increases to the rate of inflation.
  • Maintaining the district’s contribution per employee to the health fund.
  • Reducing class sizes.
  • Reducing special education caseloads.

There’s a key distinction between October 2017 and this year, Bonilla said. Six years ago, the union’s strike authorization vote was followed by a fact-finding report that took about two months and prevented any walkouts while the mediator conducted a hearing and prepared the report.

This time, the fact-finding report has been completed and released to the two sides. Fresno Unified made the report public on Monday.

In addition to recommending salary increases over three years totaling 14% with one-time payments totaling another 5% in pay, the fact-finder also recommended that the two sides undergo training in interest-based bargaining so they would be better prepared for future negotiations.

Increased Urgency?

Bonilla said having the fact-finding report increases the urgency to reach an agreement.

“I believe that it does. I believe that even over the last few weeks the district’s willingness to finally come back to the table and discuss the issues has been because of the pressure of — or the urgency — of a strike vote that at that time was an impending strike vote,” he said. “And, we’ll see if after what happens tonight, if that increases the urgency for the district.”

FTA: Survey Indicates Community Support for Teachers

By contrast, the union is feeling less pressure after a community survey conducted for it by Survey USA showed overwhelming support from Fresno Unified parents and the community generally for teachers’ salaries keeping up with inflation and for smaller class sizes, Bonilla said.

If FTA’s executive board does vote for a walkout, teachers will be picketing at every school and possibly the downtown Education Center, where the district offices are headquartered, he said.

There are no plans to picket officials’ homes, Bonilla said.

Bonilla said he is still optimistic that the district and union can reach an agreement and forestall a walkout.

“I truly hope that we can find an agreement. I think that tonight you’re going to see a community that’s going to see a large group of folks coming together and really speaking with one voice,” he said. “And I hope that as we lead into a potential strike, that allows for that board and Superintendent (Bob) Nelson to see that these are the priorities of their educators. And so really, the ball is into the board’s hands and Superintendent Nelson’s hands, that they’re going to prioritize the classroom.”

Councilmember Says Settle Contract Now

That community support does not extend to Fresno Councilmember Miguel Arias, who Wednesday afternoon urged the two sides to reach agreement “immediately” because of the harm it will do to families due to wage losses, to children’s education, which has not recovered from the pandemic’s learning losses, and to children themselves “who will be left unattended.”

In the event of a strike, Fresno Unified plans to keep classrooms open and is offering to pay substitute teachers $500 a day.

Arias, who previously worked as a Fresno Unified administrator, noted in a news release about a potential teacher strike that Nelson and the union’s executive director each earn $350,000 in annual salary, 10 times the annual income for average Fresno families.

“I call on both sides to act like responsible professionals, earn their six-figure salaries paid for by taxpayers, and reach a compromise immediately. Failure to do so will unnecessarily put our children’s safety at risk and place our families in critical financial despair,” Arias said in the news release.

Earlier Wednesday Arias engaged in a heated dialogue on X (formerly Twitter) with union official Jon Bath, a teacher at Sunnyside High School.

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