The Fresno Teachers Association on Friday filed an unfair labor practice complaint against Fresno Unified School District, alleging that administrators improperly attempted to discourage employees at one elementary school from talking with parents about a potential teachers strike.
The complaint also alleges the district’s chief communications officer authorized administrators to ask staff if they plan to support a strike.
Such communications harm FTA’s “right to have its members participate in protected activity,” the complaint says.
Teachers are voting by emailed ballots on whether to authorize a strike against the district. The voting began Wednesday evening after a pep rally-type meeting at the Fresno Fairgrounds and will continue until 5 p.m. Monday. Union President Manuel Bonilla said Friday the union won’t release any information before early next week.
Don’t Talk About Strike
The complaint filed with the Public Employment Relations Board alleges that the principal and vice principal of Burroughs Elementary improperly urged teachers not to discuss a potential strike with parents but to confine their conversations to academics and refer such questions to the front office. The union’s complaint said that the school had never before told teachers to focus only on academics when speaking with parents.
An Oct. 12 email from principal Lorena Federico urged teachers not to get “consumed by the toxic negativity” or “misguided by false claims.” both of which teachers believed were references to ongoing contract talks.
The complaint also said that the following day the school’s vice principal, Daniel Rivera, repeated Federico’s email over the school’s loudspeakers, using a tone of voice that teachers considered to be intimidating.
The union’s complaint also alleges that the district’s chief communications officer, Nikki Henry, sent out a Q&A through the district’s messaging system that included a question about whether school administrators could ask staffers if they planned to strike.
The answer: “Yes. In an effort to plan accordingly and ensure students are not declined the opportunity to attend school, District admin can ask staff if they plan to come to work in the event of a work stoppage. No staff member will be reprimanded or negatively affected in any way, no matter how he/she/they responds.”
The union said such a communication would lead to “improper interrogation” of staffers and could discourage them from participating in protected labor activity such as a strike.
District Filed PERB Complaint in June
Fresno Unified has already filed its own unfair labor practice against the union in June, accusing the union of bad faith bargaining by submitting its first proposal as its “last, best, and final offer.”
It was not immediately clear Friday whether PERB has made any decision on the district’s complaint from June. Later Friday Henry said that the district is waiting for PERB to schedule a hearing date on the complaint.
When asked for comment about the FTA’s labor charge, Henry asked GV Wire to forward it to her. She did not have an immediate comment. Later Friday she said the district was reviewing the allegations: “Fresno Unified respects the rights of its teachers to engage in concerted activity and will respond to the charge.”
The two sides have been in negotiations for a new contract since November 2022. There are four main sticking points, according to the union: FTA wants teacher salary increases tied to the rate of inflation, status quo on the district’s per-employee contribution to the health fund, smaller class sizes, and smaller special education caseloads.
The last teacher strike in Fresno was in 1978. Teachers voted in October 2017 to authorize a strike but reached an agreement with the district three months later without walking out.
In the event of a strike, Fresno Unified plans to keep classrooms open by employing substitute teachers who will be paid $500 a day.