Over 3,000 Fresno Unified teachers and educators gathered at the Fresno Fairgrounds' Paul Paul Theater Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023, to launch a strike vote.
Over three thousand Fresno Unified educators gathered for a strike authorization vote at the Fresno Fairgrounds' Paul Paul Theater Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023. Credit: Julianna Morano / Fresnoland

What's at stake?

If substitutes choose not to cross picket lines during a Fresno Teachers Association strike, that throws a wrench in the works for the district's plan to keep schools open during a strike relying on thousands of subs.

A union representing Fresno Unified substitute teachers announced Thursday morning members would not cross picket lines if teachers strike next week.

“This week, our FASTA chapter membership voted unanimously to support FTA,” Fresno Area Substitute Teachers Association President Esther Rojas-Jasso said in an announcement Thursday morning, “and encourage our substitute teacher members not to cross strike picket lines in solidarity.”

The move could throw a wrench in the district’s plans to keep schools open while over 3,000 teachers potentially picket, following their vote to approve a strike. For months, Fresno Unified has planned to rely on subs to staff classrooms and had over 2,300 ready to go during the strike, according to a district spokesperson Tuesday.

The district fired back later Thursday morning with an injunction against the Fresno Area Substitute Teachers Association, filed with the Public Employment Relations Board. The filing accuses the union of violating their contract with the district, which prohibits a sympathy strike.

“Fresno Unified is deeply disappointed by this weak showing of FASTA’s leadership,” the release said, “bending to the larger will of SEIU non-local leadership.” SEIU 521 is the parent union of FASTA.

The district also questioned how many substitutes participated in what FASTA described as a unanimous vote. 

Board Clerk Susan Wittrup said in a text message to Fresnoland that a FASTA representative told district leaders that only 50 members participated in the vote the union alluded to in their announcement.

She also shared a copy of a side-letter agreement the district and FASTA signed Oct. 17, which stated FASTA members would receive $500 per day for the duration of an FTA strike. The letter was signed by Kevin Smith and Eduardo Bedolla, the latter of whom is named as FASTA’s president.

“Fresno Unified is extremely confident that this so-called vote by less than 2% of FASTA’s membership,” the district’s release added, “DOES NOT represent the intentions and integrity of the more than 2,000 substitutes ready to serve our Fresno Unified schools in the event of a teacher strike next week.”

Leaders of FASTA and SEIU 521 didn’t immediately respond to inquiries regarding how many Fresno Unified substitutes they represent or how many members voted not to cross picket lines. They didn’t immediately provide clarification on who the current president of FASTA is either.

Alexander Orozco, a substitute teacher for over a year-and-a-half with the district, said he won’t cross the picket line next week to show “unequivocal support for FTA and their members.”

He wasn’t sure how many fellow substitutes would end up joining him, however.

“The superintendent of FUSD intentionally put people in a difficult position, given the relatively low wages that substitute teachers make (and) enticing them with over two-and-a-half times as much as a current day would earn you.”

He expects a lot of substitutes to still cross picket lines “out of necessity” for the paychecks.

FTA leadership meanwhile thanked FASTA for their solidarity action Thursday and criticized the district’s response to the substitutes’ announcement.

“Instead of actually addressing the real issues at hand,” said FTA President Manuel Bonilla, “they’d rather attack the people that are bringing the issues to light.”

The union has called for parents to leave their kids at home during the strike, rather than leaving them with a “random babysitter” in their classrooms.

Fresno Unified Board President Veva Islas voiced concerns with the union’ request Tuesday, saying it’s “unrealistic” to expect single-parent and low-income households to make that work.

The district has said it won’t excuse student absences during the strike or modify grades after the fact, but some parents plan to keep their kids home anyway.

Fresnoland reached out to board leadership for further comment Thursday morning.

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