The Fresno Teachers Association announced Thursday morning that Fresno Unified’s substitute teachers union has voted not to cross picket lines if Fresno teachers go on strike next Wednesday.
The Fresno Area Substitute Teachers Association is a chapter of SEIU Local 521. SEIU spokeswoman Elsa Mejia confirmed that the association members had voted not to cross teacher picket lines.
Fresno Unified has told parents that schools will remain open in a strike because the district will be hiring substitute teachers at a rate of $500 a day — more than double what the district typically pays.
Fresno Unified has said that the district’s other unions have contract clauses that forbid sympathy strikes. The district announced Thursday morning that it is filing an injunction and unfair labor charge against FASTA for bad faith bargaining and violating their contract.
“FASTA negotiated with Fresno Unified earlier this year to support our students and schools in the event of an impended (sic) teacher strike by FTA,” the district said in a news release. “Those negotiations included agreeing upon the $500 per day pay for substitutes during an active teacher strike. FASTA has been a joint partner in all substitute recruitment, joining Fresno Unified at all substitute hiring events, including just last night. Importantly. their contract includes a strong clause prohibiting a sympathy strike.”
Mejia said she did not know whether the FASTA contract contains a clause forbidding sympathy strikes. She said the union is preparing its own announcement.
FASTA president Esther Rojas-Jasso later issued a statement in a news release, saying the chapter had voted unanimously to support FTA, and members were being encouraged not to cross picket lines.
“Rather than addressing the severe and very real obstacles hurting students in our classrooms, the District is attempting to pin workers against each other and using intimidation tactics to break a potential strike,” Rojas-Jasso said. “We urge the District to immediately end its Unfair Labor Practices and reach a fair agreement.”
District: Less Than 2% Voted
Fresno Unified said less than 2% of the FASTA membership voted Tuesday evening in an in-person vote to not cross FTA lines. The union then sent out a message to more than 2,000 substitute members not to cross the FTA picket lines, the district said.
“Fresno Unified is deeply disappointed by this weak showing of FASTA’s leadership bending to the larger will of SEIU non-local leadership,” the district said in the news release. “Fresno Unified is extremely confident that this so-called vote by less than 2% of FASTA’s membership DOES NOT represent the intentions and integrity of the more than 2,000 substitutes ready to serve our Fresno Unified schools in the event of a teacher strike next week.”
FASTA did not respond to a query from GV Wire about how many of the members participated in the vote.
Contract Negotiations Under Way
Fresno teachers and the district are trying to hammer out a new three-year contract. The union’s four major issues are making sure teacher salaries keep up with inflation, requiring the district to maintain the current level of contribution to the self-funded health care fund, and reducing class sizes and special education caseloads.
FTA President Manual Bonilla said the teachers union is grateful to have the support of the substitute teachers union. He noted that substitute teachers aren’t required to take on teaching assignments, and said that if subs don’t show up it’s not a violation of the no-strike clause of their contract.
Members of other unions, such as the California State Employees Association which represents district office and cafeteria workers, have indicated that they plan to join teachers on picket lines outside of their assigned work hours, Bonilla said.
“We’ve been in conversations about the issues because quite frankly, many of the issues that we have been advocated for to fix in the district, those folks also live under and would like to fix their roles with our students in this district,” he said. “We know there are ways they will be standing with us.”
Will FASTA’s announcement increase the pressure on the district to reach an agreement with the teachers union? “Yeah, absolutely,” Bonilla said. “I think that it’s time for the Board of Trustees to give direction to Superintendent (Bob) Nelson and say, ‘let’s get this done. Let’s meet the priorities of our educators.'”
Bonilla said the union continues on a double track of both negotiating a new contract while preparing for a possible strike. The union was meeting again Thursday with district officials and is prepared to go as long and as late as is necessary to reach an agreement, he said.