Education

Teachers have been striking all over California. Could this local district’s union be next?

Scenes from the teachers’ strike in Los Angeles

Thousands of teachers involved with United Teachers Los Angeles have been striking since Jan. 14, 2019. These teachers are fighting for smaller class sizes, more staff and higher pay.
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Thousands of teachers involved with United Teachers Los Angeles have been striking since Jan. 14, 2019. These teachers are fighting for smaller class sizes, more staff and higher pay.

Madera Unified teachers indicated that they are ready to strike should it become necessary after negotiations with the district over salary and health benefits failed this month.

A straw poll taken at Wednesday’s Madera Unified Teachers Association meeting showed that a majority of union members would be in favor of a strike, according to Madera Unified Teachers Association president David Holder.

The 1,070-member union is asking for a 4.75 percent raise and no caps on health benefits, which the district has countered with an offer of a 1.75 percent raise and a benefits cap. Negotiations have been stalled since October 2018, and the two parties will now head to fact-finding after failing to find a resolution in mediation.

Wednesday’s action was not an official strike vote, but a way to gauge the feeling of the room, Holder said.

“We’re dumbfounded as to how the district came to these conclusions in light of the new governor’s proposals that would give more money to schools,” Holder said. “These ask teachers to give back, through benefits caps, but also by working more days.”

Holder said the district failed to show up to the last round of scheduled mediation.

Madera Unified spokesman Babatunde Ilori said the district canceled the meeting because no new data had been found since the last round of mediation.

In a news release, the district says its proposal is meant to “allow our teacher salaries to remain competitive while maintaining a balanced approach to our budget.”

“We are thinking through ways we can continue negotiations and feel we can reach a mutually beneficial agreement to meet our shared goals as a district,” the release states. “We would like to reopen negotiations so we can have productive conversations which can lead to a strong and competitive contract that allows our district to continue to recruit and retain highly qualified staff.”

Holder said the union’s current contract is set to expire June 30, at which point MUTA members would be working without one. Oakland Unified teachers went on strike this week after being without a contract for over a year. The union last considered a strike in 2012.

While MUTA can only legally discuss pay and health benefits during this round of negotiations, issues of class sizes and lack of support for students may be on the table at a future time, Holder said. Teachers are also specifically upset over the end of a program that allowed teachers to run professional development for themselves and their peers, according to Holder.

“We’re seeing in Oakland now what happens when contracts aren’t in place,” Holder said. “This is far beyond salary and benefits, it’s about respect.”

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