Less than 24 hours before teachers were scheduled to leave their classrooms for picket lines, Fresno Unified and Fresno Teachers Association leaders announced that they had reached a tentative agreement on a three-year contract that will provide 16% in ongoing raises over three years, plus one-time bonuses of 2.5% in the second and third year.
Fresno Unified will provide a pay boost of 8.5% this year, 3% next year, and 4.5% the third year. The district previously had offered a 2.5% pay boost in year three.
The district will need to make $38 million in budget cuts in the second and third years of the contact, Superintendent Bob Nelson told GV Wire.
In recent years, the School Board has asked district administrators to determine which programs provide the best return on investment academically, and which do not, and that will help guide those budget-cut decisions, he said.
“It could be anything that we think is not making a big contribution,” Nelson said. “Are we getting a return on investment for all of our efforts to close off chronic absenteeism, for example? And then if we’re not, then what are all the supports that underpin chronic absenteeism? And which do we think are the least effective?”
100% Healthcare for Employees
The contract will reduce the amount of money the district pays into the self-funded healthcare fund from $24,370 to $22,000 per employee, but district officials are confident that there will be sufficient funds to maintain the district’s 100% coverage of healthcare costs. In addition, the contract includes a “bridge to Medicare” to continue healthcare coverage for employees who retire after 20 years and are at least age 57 1/2.
The tentative deal, which still awaits approval by the union membership and School Board, also contains provisions to lower class sizes and special education caseloads but sets no caps on class sizes. The district is committing to adding facilities and resources as needed to lower class sizes.
Union, Community Teamed Up on Contract Asks
Fresno Teachers Association President Manuel Bonilla said the tentative pact is an improvement over the district’s Proposal No. 2, not only for the additional pay in year three but also because of safeguards to the district’s health fund and additional commitments to lowering class sizes and special education caseloads.
The union’s initial proposal sought 27% raises and $27,500 in one-time bonuses in a 26-page document that also included a series of student- and family-oriented proposals, including smaller class sizes, installing washers and dryers at schools, providing pantries at schools for food and personal hygiene items, providing 24-hour mental health services for students and families, and opening school parking lots for homeless families.
Bonilla credited community involvement in helping FTA craft its contract proposals. “Together we have a historic contract that really meets their needs alongside ours because we want what’s best for our students. We also want to make sure that our expertise as those that spend the most time with our students is heard,” he said.
The announcement was made Tuesday morning in the courtyard area in front of historic Royce Hall at Fresno High School, where reporters, students, teachers, and union members gathered to watch as officials conducted a ceremonial signing of the contract. It still needs approval by the School Board and union membership.
District spokeswoman Nikki Henry said the teachers are scheduled to take a ratification vote at 3 p.m. Wednesday at Chukchansi Park. If it’s official by 4 p.m., Fresno Unified can add it to the agenda for Wednesday’s board meeting. If not, it will be on the Nov. 15 meeting agenda, she said.
Strike Threat Hurt Kids, Families
As the district and union officials gathered Tuesday for the signing ceremony, a woman at the front of the crowd questioned why the sides took so long to reach an agreement and subjected families to the drama and uncertainty of a strike threat.
“This could have been done,” shouted the woman, who said her name is Lethal Garcia. “It could have been avoided.”
“Why put our kids through all this, just to, day of, sign away all cute on camera?” Garcia, the mother of a Fresno Unified student, told GV Wire. “Some of our kids go through trauma. Why add onto that trauma?”
Nelson acknowledged later that the negotiations “could have been done better” and promised that the district will work harder to continue the conversations that have been launched in the current round of contract talks.
Bonilla noted that it took difficult conversations and mediation from two former Fresno Pacific University faculty members who were brought in as mediators at the 11th hour for the sides to agree.
Why didn’t those difficult conversations happen back in May or June, before the old contract ended? “I would say that from our end we were always willing to do so,” Bonilla said.
The proposed contract includes a clause that could forestall future strikes. It creates a labor-management partnership that is committed to using interest-based bargaining as a framework for ongoing discussions on topics covered by the collective bargaining agreement, including class sizes, nurse evaluations, and dual enrollment programs.
Contract Talks Did Not Progress
The two sides had attempted to use interest-based bargaining for the new contract, and talks began after the union submitted its proposal in November 2022.
But after months of no progress, teachers union members showed by consensus at a downtown rally in May that they would support a strike authorization vote in October if they had no contract by then. The same night the union submitted its “last, best, and final offer” to the district, prompting Fresno Unified to file an unfair labor practice charge in June with the state Public Employment Relations Board and seek mediation.
But the fact-finding report that resulted from hearings in September seemingly brought the sides no closer. The report by the state mediator who was brought in to try to break the impasse noted that interest-based bargaining is not effective for negotiating multiple issues simultaneously but instead is effective when the two sides focus on single issues.
On Oct. 18, more than 3,000 union members packed the Paul Paul Theatre at the Fresno Fairgrounds for a pep rally-style meeting that ended with the opening of electronic voting to authorize a strike. Voting ended Oct. 23, and the next day FTA announced that 93% of the voting teachers had authorized a strike set for Nov. 1 unless a tentative deal was reached before then.
In response to a Q&A about district preparations for a possible strike sent out by the district to parents, the union filed an unfair labor charge against Fresno Unified with PERB.
Negotiations intensified with marathon sessions over the weekend and the sides found common ground with the assistance of the two former Fresno Pacific faculty members.
The last time Fresno teachers struck was in 1978. Teachers authorized a strike in October 2017, but a new contract was signed three months later without any work stoppage. Fresno Pacific mediators helped settle those negotiations, as well.