Teachers in Fresno, California, have authorized a strike, and to fill the temporary vacancies, the school district is sending out a state-wide call for substitute teachers with a lucrative offer– $500 per day to cross the picket line. That’s more than the average daily pay for a full-time teacher in Fresno Unified School District and more than double the normal daily rate for substitute teachers.
If someone accepts a job in the classroom while the teachers are on strike, it will be regarded as crossing the picket line, according to Fresno Teachers Association President Manuel Bonilla. Guest teachers are not a part of the association, and if they teach during the strike they won’t be blacklisted, but Bonilla said it will undoubtedly damage personal relationships with teachers fighting for a fair contract.
“It’s hard to see one group of people fighting and advocating for positive change and another person that is getting in the way of that progress,” said Bonilla.
The union has been negotiating with the school district for a new contract, but both sides have yet to come to an agreement about class size, special education caseloads, health care policies and salary. Similar to the striking United Auto Workers, the Fresno Teachers Association said members want the salary increases in line with inflation and the cost of living index. Chief Communications Officer for Fresno Unified School District Nikki Henry referred to that request as a “straw man argument.”
Henry says more than 95% of the district’s substitute teachers have agreed to continue teaching during the strike. But even with many willing to overlook the strike for a higher wage – substitutes in the district typically make $200 a day – theplaguing schools nationwide leads Borillo to believe the district won’t be able to adequately fill the spots left temporarily open by striking teachers in California’s third-largest school district.
“We hear of the number of vacancies that take place on any given day. And so we do not believe that they have the ability to fill those spaces, and definitely not to fill them with qualified folks,” said Borillo.
The district has more than 2,100 credentialed substitute teachers who previously agreed to continue working even in the case of a strike, Henry said. She said outreach about the higher pay has been successful, and about 200 additional substitute teachers joined the district this past weekend.
“At this point, we have more than enough folks to make sure that our kids are taken care of and the learning continues,” Henry said.
Josiah Mariano, who began substitute teaching in Fresno Unified School District last spring, plans to continue to do so during the strike. He told CBS News his friends who are full-time teachers in the district already expected he would keep teaching, and he might even cover their classes. Mariano said while he received very few details about the strike and contract negotiations, the district sent several messages highlighting the $500 daily pay if substitute teachers committed to teach during the strike.
“That’s awesome to get paid that, but I can’t imagine that we’ll be able to sustain that for super long,” said Mariano. “That’s kind of nuts, you know, for a daily rate.”
The school district explained the incentive funding comes directly from wages withheld from teachers on strike. Henry said that means they’re able to continue the additional pay as long as the teachers are striking.
“Our average teacher makes about $490 a day, so we’re just diverting those funds over to the substitute teacher that would be in the classroom that day,” said Henry. “It’s not a big additional cost to the district.”
Executive Director of the National Education Association Kim Anderson said Fresno is the first district she has seen offer this for substitute teachers filling in for striking teachers. She hopes it doesn’t become a common practice.
“This move to pay substitutes, frankly, even more than the daily rate of a teacher sends a horrible message to what we think about the profession of teaching, and all the educators who provide support services to students,” said Anderson. “Instead of looking to our band-aid solutions, we need everybody to recognize that students need high quality, well trained, committed and well compensated professionals every day of the year.”
While the amount being offered by Fresno Unified School District is unprecedented, other school districts have opted to provide substitute teachers with bonus pay if they cross the picket line of a striking teachers union in the past. In 2017, Fresno Unified School District presented the same $500 proposal for substitute teachers in the case of a strike. It was never implemented as a contract agreement was reached before a walkout took place, but the idea laid the groundwork for the strategy being used now.
“It was very successful in recruiting the substitutes that we needed,” said Henry about the 2017 offer. “Based on that success, we wanted to be prepared this time around.”