Fresno Unified School District officials were booed by dozens of teachers on Thursday after they refused to publicly negotiate with the Fresno Teachers Association on a new contract.
In an unprecedented move, the teachers union is inviting parents and community members to its bargaining sessions with Fresno Unified. The meetings typically are closed, but the FTA says it’s pushing for transparency. The FTA is demanding smaller class sizes and more nurses and social and emotional support for students.
“What we’re trying to do is pull the veil away so that folks can see this process of bargaining,” FTA president Tish Rice said. “They think we’re just trying to intimidate them, but that’s not our intention.”
More than 200 people – many teachers – attended the bargaining session at the Westside Church of God in Fresno on Thursday. Fresno Unified staff members, including human resource officer Paul Idsvoog, entered the room briefly to make a statement, then left.
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Why are they afraid of public accountability?
Mo Kashmiri, FTA associate executive director
Fresno Unified is questioning the legality of the open meetings. “FTA has basically broken the law,” Peter Schaffert, attorney for Fresno Unified, said in the statement. “The district is willing to bargain … but the district has not agreed to this town-hall-style bargaining.”
Schaffert said in past practice, there have been no more than 11 people at the bargaining table and that participants should be identified. The FTA contends its legal counsel approved the open meetings, pointing out that the bargaining rules say “persons with special knowledge relevant to the negotiations” are welcome. There is no rule that limits the number of those attending bargaining sessions, according to the FTA.
In its bargaining proposal, the FTA calls for no more than 30 students in high school classes, and fewer than that for earlier grades. Bargaining proposals also include a call for full-time nurses, social workers and psychologists at each school, in addition to several other demands.
District leadership has criticized the FTA’s demands, pointing out that the union is seeking to negotiate a record number of 20 articles of the contract.
Fresno Unified administrators’ refusal to negotiate publicly infuriated Thursday’s audience – mostly teachers – with one individual shouting: “Since when does Fresno Unified care about the law?” The district is embroiled in a federal investigation and legal disputes concerning its handling of no-bid construction contracts.
The FTA and district leaders have gone head-to-head several times in the past year. Last year, after 12 unsuccessful collective bargaining sessions regarding teacher pay, the district declared an impasse, requiring the Public Employment Relations Board to step in to mediate.
FTA has basically broken the law.
Peter Schaffert, Fresno Unified attorney
Louis Jamerson, executive director of FTA, said the organization is not backing down. He pushed for a bigger turnout at next month’s negotiations.
“It doesn’t matter if they walk out. All that means is you all won tonight. You all scared them,” Jamerson said. “They should know we’re committed. There’s too much at stake.”
Mo Kashmiri, associate executive director of the FTA and an attorney, said that when he worked for the California Nurses Association, more open bargaining sessions like this one were conducted.
“I think we’re stronger with the more people that know what’s going on and that management thinks they’re stronger the less people know,” he said. “The question is what do they have to hide? Why are they afraid of public accountability?”