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By Julian Peeples

When bargaining started last year, 4,000 Fresno teachers committed to each other to do whatever it took for the schools #EveryFresnoStudent deserves – with their unbreakable unity powering a historic contract victory this week that averted a strike and sets the foundation for transforming Fresno public schools.

On Halloween, it was all treats and no tricks for Fresno Teachers Association (FTA) with the announcement that a tentative agreement had been reached less than 24 hours before Fresno teachers were set to walk picket lines for the first time in 45 years.

Fresno Teachers Association President Manuel Bonilla celebrates the victory with fellow members at Chukchansi Park

“At the core of this negotiation were four major priorities: reducing class sizes for students, reducing special education caseloads, keeping our teachers competitively paid, and ensuring continued and stable health coverage,” FTA President Manuel Bonilla said at an Oct. 31 press conference at Fresno High School. “Today, we’ve reached a historic agreement that not only accomplishes those goals, it exceeds them.”

Among FTA’s victories, a commitment that a portion of future bond money will go to increasing classroom space and elementary music space, additional funding for student supports and a plan to have a school nurse at every school in three years.

FTA also won wage increases that bring veteran and new teachers in Fresno from the bottom in pay to near the top Central Valley-wide. And in a win that was seen by many as unattainable, FTA won lifetime medical benefits for teachers with 20 or more years of service to Fresno Unified. These gains will help to stem churn in an FUSD that saw one in five teachers leave after last school year, meaning Fresno kids will have more seasoned educators who know them and understand the community.

“Our teachers can return to the classroom tomorrow, rather than standing on a picket line, knowing that we are charting a different path forward together,” Bonilla said. “Because they’ve made it clear that students thrive when educators thrive – and educators thrive when leaders value their hard work, tireless dedication and are committed to providing adequate support.”

FTA members ratified the agreement yesterday, with 92 percent voting to approve in the highest turnout for a ratification vote in FTA’s history. The FUSD School Board approved the contract at its meeting last night.

While Fresno Unified administrators spent the summer devising ways to break a potential strike, including offering $500 a day to substitutes to cross a picket line, FTA organized their members, building strength through unity in their mission for Fresno students. Two weeks ago, more than 3,400 blue-shirted FTA members packed an amphitheater in the Fresno Fairgrounds after school in 90-degree heat for a rally opening their strike vote. This powerful display sent a message to FUSD administrators and the community that Fresno teachers would not back down in the fight for #EveryFresnoStudent.

When the dust settled, 93.5% of members had voted to authorize a strike and FTA set a strike date of Nov. 1. Last Friday, Fresno teachers held an informational picket at every FUSD school – an awesome display of what was to come if an agreement could not be reached in time. These shows of power made FUSD return to the bargaining table and offer much more for students and teachers than in their proposal made just prior to the strike vote event.

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