Sacramento City teachers union to hold vote by members to authorize potential strike

The teachers union took its long-running dispute with the Sacramento City Unified School District up a notch Thursday as union leaders voted to seek members’ authorization for a potential strike.

The move adds to the challenges faced by the district, which is under the threat of state takeover as it wrestles with a $35 million budget gap.

About 100 teacher representatives agreed unanimously Thursday night to give their union’s bargaining team the OK to collect strike authorization votes from teachers at each school. The SCTA has about 2,500 members.

“It doesn’t mean that a strike is certain, but rather it’s an option,” said SCTA President David Fisher in an interview with The Sacramento Bee.

In a statement to The Bee, Sacramento City Unified Superintendent Jorge Aguilar said, “We will continue inviting SCTA leaders to encourage their members to be part of a solution, not a strike.”

“A strike will not save our schools from a state takeover. It would only disrupt student learning and create more division in our District,” Aguilar said.

But Fisher claimed an ongoing, long-standing pattern of “bargaining in bad faith” by the district. He said if it continues, the union wants the option to strike.

“It grows out of frustration of the failure of the superintendent to honor a contract that he signed more than a year ago, and the continued treatment of our contract gets optional as opposed to something that’s binding on both parties,” Fisher said.

He said the union also was concerned about the status of arbitration efforts with the district, and follow-through if agreement is reached.

The district had filed a motion in Sacramento Superior Court in November that halted planned arbitration, asking the judge to determine whether there was an agreement over how to distribute a salary adjustment for early and mid-career teachers.

The judge last week ordered the district back to the arbitration table with the union to settle the contract dispute. The SCTA recommended scheduling arbitration meetings for early March.

But the union said the arbitration is just to negotiate the salary schedule, and that their list of grievances is much longer than that.

“It’s a pattern of things that are happening and continue to happen and then a lack of certainty into what the district might do next,” Fisher said.

Union site representatives will begin collecting member votes in person at each school site on Tuesday. It will take approximately three weeks to collect the votes, according to the union. The votes will then go through the union’s executive board, and if enough members vote yes, under its contract the union can then call for a strike date.

According to an online FAQ by the union, a simple majority vote is needed to authorize a strike.

“We hope that the district will engage lawfully with us,” Fisher said, adding that would prevent seeking a strike date. “That’s the idea behind the vote.”

District spokesman Alex Barrios said the district’s attorneys question whether there are legal grounds for teachers to go on strike.

“It will end up putting further strain on the relationship when we need to be working together,” he said.

In September 2017, about 80 percent of SCTA members turned out to vote in its last strike over contract negotiations. Nearly 97 percent voted for a strike, and while it was imminent, both reached an agreement on a new contract brokered by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

The SCTA also held a vote for a strike in 2015, with the majority of teachers favoring one.

The last teachers strike in the district was in 1989.

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Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.