Education

Will Fresno Unified teachers go on strike? State’s fourth-largest district on edge

Fresno Unified teachers protest outside of Sunnyside High school in 2016. The Fresno Teachers Association will vote in October if it wants to go on strike, after months of failed negotiations with the district.
Fresno Unified teachers protest outside of Sunnyside High school in 2016. The Fresno Teachers Association will vote in October if it wants to go on strike, after months of failed negotiations with the district. Fresno Bee file

Fresno Unified teachers will vote next month whether they want to strike, putting the state’s fourth-largest school district on edge.

The Fresno Teachers Association's representative council voted last month to authorize its executive board to call for a strike vote of the general membership, and the board did that unanimously in a meeting Thursday night. On Oct. 3, the near 4,000 members of the union will vote if they want to move forward, after more than a year of failed negotiations with the district about issues including class size and student discipline.

“Now it becomes real, rather than just talk,” FTA president Tish Rice said Friday. “October is still a while away. In the meantime, I want to make sure that this is really clear: Our goal continues always to be not to strike. But we’re always preparing. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.”

To make the strike vote happen, 25 percent of FTA’s general members – about 1,000 teachers – must participate in the October meeting, something Rice said is “definitely doable.”

A state mediator has stepped in to facilitate negotiations between the district and FTA. That mediation ended after an 11-hour session on Wednesday without a tentative agreement.

“The hope is, there is is still time. We’re still completing the negotiation process,” Rice said. “The district needs to address large class sizes; make sure we have more social-emotional support for our students and a comprehensive discipline and safety plan.”

Rice said teacher autonomy, salary and special education issues are also being discussed.

Fresno Unified has an enrollment over 70,000, making it fourth biggest in the state.

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.

Fresno Unified superintendent finalist Bob Nelson said in a statement Friday the district is committed to the negotiations process, and “maintaining confidentiality of all communications in mediation and not debating the issues in public forums.”

The FTA has been active on social media about the process – hosting a Facebook live-stream on Thursday night to broadcast the vote, and inviting the public to negotiations in an unprecedented move last year.

“A state-approved mediator has been assigned to help us work with FTA towards an agreement in the best interest of our district’s students. I care deeply about our teachers and the contributions they make daily to support our students,” Nelson said. “I will continue to seek common ground with our teachers and will absolutely honor the process as outlined by the state. Our community is free to monitor our progress toward that goal by visiting our district website.”

Mackenzie Mays: 559-441-6412, @MackenzieMays

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