Strike worries grow as Fresno Unified, teachers can’t settle on negotiation method

The school district and its teacher’s union allege that a strike isn’t imminent, but the two sides are incapable of getting to the negotiating table.

While Fresno Unified teachers could be headed for a strike, the district and the Fresno Teachers Association are having trouble even coming to the bargaining table. 

California’s third-largest school district will see its contract with the FTA expire in June if a new deal is not reached. 


The backstory: Both sides entered into training for Interest-Based Bargaining (IBB) in February, which is a negotiation strategy where they work together to identify interests in the negotiations instead of exchanging individually formulated proposals. 

  • While the district and the FTA previously agreed to use IBB, the FTA recently sent Fresno Unified a 26-page document that had specific proposed language that more closely resembles positional bargaining. 
  • The district responded with a press release saying that it believed FTA planned a strike authorization vote last week, something that the union denied. 

The big picture: Fresno Unified Superintendent Bob Nelson and FTA President Manuel Bonilla appeared together on Sunday Morning Matters with Alexan Balekian and gave the public an inside view into how far apart both sides are. 

What they’re saying: The Sunday Morning Matters segment largely centered on how the two sides will negotiate, with disagreement on if they are following the IBB model. 

  • “I think we’re not of one mind about what we want our process to be,” Nelson said. 
  • Nelson argued that the 26-page letter from the FTA signaled that the union is not interested in following IBB. 
  • Bonilla responded by saying the district has not meaningfully engaged with the union, and that the press release claiming a strike authorization vote was imminent was irresponsible. 
  • “I won’t call it a lie, but it was definitely an irresponsible release that went out by Superintendent Nelson,” Bonilla said. “Somebody in his position, somebody that has his experience shouldn’t have sent that out.” 
  • “The issue is how do we want to bargain,” Nelson said. “Do we want to do Interest Based Bargaining where we’re talking in meaningful ways? Or do we want to do traditional positional bargaining, which we would be perfectly acceptable with, where we’ll respond to the 26 pages with our response and then our proposal, and then we can go back and forth. But that’s a different strategy.” 

What we’re watching: While the district and the FTA bicker about what actually constitutes IBB, the union told the district that its goal is to reach an agreement on a new contract by May 23. 

  • Nelson and Bonilla told Balekian that they do not believe a strike is looming, but their inability to even agree to a bargaining method makes a potential strike all the more possible. 
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