Education

Fresno teachers gear up for fight with union leaders amid name-calling, infighting

Fresno Teachers Association president talks about new agreement

Manuel Bonilla, president of the Fresno Teachers Association, talks about what made this round of negotiations with Fresno Unified different than any other time before.
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Manuel Bonilla, president of the Fresno Teachers Association, talks about what made this round of negotiations with Fresno Unified different than any other time before.

As Fresno Unified School District officials praise a “revolutionary” agreement with the teachers’ union, recent infighting within the union has triggered allegations of name-calling and rules violations and now a court battle over membership dues.

Just a day before the district announced a new tentative three-year deal with the union, six teachers filed for a court order to eliminate and reimburse a recent dues increase and accused top union leaders of violating bylaws.

One of the teachers said she stepped down from her leadership position after she said the union’s executive director, Louis Jamerson, berated a group of site representatives and referred to them as “losers.”

Jamerson did not respond to a request for comment.

Six teachers on June 11 filed a petition in Fresno County Superior Court asking a judge to reverse the dues increase adopted by the union March 11. The teachers said union leadership failed to notify members of the proposed dues hike of $5 per month prior to adoption, which they claim violates the group’s bylaws.

“Bylaws say 30 days before they even approach the subject, they have to tell the members,” said the attorney on the case, Barry Bennett.

Union President Manuel Bonilla denies any bylaws were broken.

“We are aware of the writ,” he said. “We know that we have followed all bylaws correctly and we look forward to responding to the writ.”

Hilary Levine said she has been on the FTA negotiating team in the past and has been part of the union for 24 years.

“I’ve seen so many things over the years, but I’ve never seen them not follow the bylaws,” she said.

Teacher Rebecca McAlary said she and other site reps were berated at the March 11 meeting when the dues were raised. She has decided to leave her position at the FTA because of it.

She said Jamerson, the executive director, was called to the front “when it looked like the vote was not going to be in favor to increase the dues to fund their foundation.”

She said Jamerson yelled at “the entire site rep council for the next 10 to 15 minutes, calling us losers, telling us we should have term limits. That was when I decided I would not be associated with the people in leadership at the moment.”

The ‘revolutionary’ contract

Levine stresses that the court order has nothing to do with the new teachers contract, which is mostly garnering praise from teachers and the district.

But both Levine and McAlary say the FTA could do better in communicating with union members, such as mailing notifications to their homes and utilizing email more.

“Lack of communication is a huge issue,” Levine said. “The biggest problem is we have no communication.”

Voting is open on the tentative agreement for the next five days, Thursday through Monday. Teachers have received texts, voicemails and emails alerting them to vote online, or to come into the FTA office to vote, Bonilla said.

This contract is being called historic because it will cover the next three years, beginning July 1 and will have been negotiated before the current contract expires on June 30. The process this year seems a far cry from a year ago when negotiations labored on for months and nearly launched a teacher strike.

Some, such as McAlary, are critical of the way FTA is fast-tracking the agreement.

McAlary says she suggested waiting until the first week of school for a vote so more teachers take part, but it “fell on deaf ears because it is the contrived timeline that seems all-important to the FTA team.”

Levine said she doesn’t believe attempting to ratify the agreement in the summer will hinder representing a majority of teachers.

She said a summer vote has happened a few times before and “in my experience, close to the majority come out to vote.”

Levine also says from her experience on the leadership team, “I can say, you’re never going to please everyone.”

Ashleigh Panoo: 559-441-6010, @AshleighPanoo
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