Teachers OK later strike vote

The teachers’ union hopes it won’t have to follow up on a vote its members took last week in anticipation of a possible strike.

Members of the Chico Unified Teachers Association gathered April 26 at the Masonic Family Center to rally and vote on whether to authorize the union’s executive board to perhaps later call for a vote on whether members should strike.

Of the 480 members who voted—a 65-percent turnout of the district’s 741 teachers—472, or 98 percent, voted “yes.” Only eight people voted against allowing the union to call for a strike vote.

Contract negotiations, and then mediation, reached a standstill in recent weeks, and now the district and union are in the midst of a fact-finding process that will see a panel issue recommendations on how the contract should be resolved. At the center is a debate on salary: The union wants about a 10-percent increase; the district is offering around 4.

There has never been a strike in the history of the Chico Unified School District, and union leaders insist they don’t want to start now.

Dan Sours, president of the CUTA, said the union is trying to get its members to see that, while they’re upset that the district isn’t giving teachers more of a raise, strikes usually do more harm than good for schools. Some think a strike “is the only thing that [district officials] are going to pay attention to,” he said. “We’re trying to dispel the idea that a strike would be a good thing.”

Sours remembered working at a school in Petaluma that, many years earlier, had a teachers’ strike, and there was still “a ‘scab’ table in the lunch room” for teachers targeted by holdover resentment. In Chico so far, he said, there hasn’t been teacher-vs.-teacher hostility, and he wants to keep it that way.

Union members have been meeting weekly to discuss how to protest the contract stalemate. For example, CUTA’s crisis team has told teachers to close their rooms during the lunch period and display a flier explaining that the state Education Code encourages districts to make lunchtime work-free.

Teachers plan on showing up in full force at the May 16 school board meeting, Sours said.

The CUSD got more money from the state than it expected this year, but the school board voted to spend it on new equipment and paying off debt, and then was hit with rising energy costs, another drop in enrollment and money it owes the state for past special-education services.