The Fresno Teachers Association is considering going on strike after failed attempts to make public the typically private bargaining negotiations with Fresno Unified officials.
“We’re definitely looking at preparing for a strike if we need to,” FTA President Tish Rice said. “But I’m hopeful that we have reasonable people that will say, ‘Let’s work together for the students.’ We just want the district to negotiate with us in a way that is in good faith and honest and transparent.”
When the FTA first invited dozens of teachers to a bargaining session in September, saying the district needed to be more transparent, Fresno Unified officials walked out. The district has questioned the legality of the open meetings the union is demanding, but FTA’s legal counsel says bargaining rules allow “persons with special knowledge relevant to the negotiations” to attend.
A California Teachers Association spokeswoman said Tuesday that the FTA would not be the first union in the state to hold open meetings, but that it doesn’t happen often.
I thought I couldn’t afford to strike, but … I see now I can’t afford not to strike.
Fresno Unified teacher Guadalupe Andrade
At a bargaining meeting Nov. 2, the district again refused to bargain in front of the nearly 450 Fresno teachers who showed up, and also would not allow the meeting to be recorded so that those in attendance could watch from another room. Ultimately, FTA officials have agreed to meet with the district in its regular small group, saying they don’t want to waste time.
On Nov. 3, in a memo to its members, the FTA said “the best strike is one we never have,” but asked teachers to take action. FTA leadership is set to visit schools to discuss details about preparing for a strike.
“The simple fact is that, from this point on, whatever happens in that bargaining room depends on you. What are you willing to do to create the inertia needed to move the district?” the FTA said. “We know the idea of a strike might sound scary, but it need not be.”
The last time Fresno Unified teachers went on strike was November 1978. It was the first teacher strike in the city’s history. The strike lasted eight days before the two sides “reached a settlement that eight months of negotiations could not produce,” The Bee reported then.
Then and now, some of the union’s demands were the same, including smaller class sizes and salary increases. Though times have changed: In 1978, the FTA was fighting its average class size of 27 students and average teacher salary of about $17,500. Now, the typical Fresno Unified high school classroom has about 40 students, and the average Fresno County teacher makes between $65,000 and $80,000.
It’s extremely disappointing that FTA continues to shift the focus away from our longstanding past practice of bargaining in good faith by launching this misinformation scare tactic.
Fresno Unified spokesman Miguel Arias
In a statement Tuesday, Fresno Unified spokesman Miguel Arias slammed the FTA’s talks of a strike and pointed to recent pay increases for teachers.
“It’s extremely disappointing that FTA continues to shift the focus away from our longstanding past practice of bargaining in good faith by launching this misinformation scare tactic,” he said. “We will continue to work through our agreed-upon process and ensure the best interest of our students, employees and community are at the center of our bargaining process.”
Earlier this year, Fresno Unified and FTA reached an agreement after several months of negotiations that included a total 7 percent salary package for teachers – a 5 percent increase and a 2 percent one-time payment. The contract also included pay increases for speech pathologists and nurses in schools, and additional funding for teachers to purchase materials and supplies.
Now, FTA is in the midst of bargaining a full contract, demanding more full-time support staff such as counselors, among other things. Fresno Unified’s latest economic proposal for FTA, submitted this month, includes a 5 percent total compensation package, recruitment incentives for hard-to-fill math and science positions and a salary schedule based on years of experience and training.
But the FTA is not pleased, and said the package really only equates to a 2 percent salary increase and is unfairly tied to teacher evaluations.
Guadalupe Andrade, a teacher at Susan B. Anthony Elementary School, said she was shocked by the district’s proposal and refusal to negotiate publicly, saying it’s disrespectful.
“I thought I couldn’t afford to strike, but their proposal is a slap in the face for my 20 years of service,” she said. “I see now I can’t afford not to strike.”