6/08/2014

DAY OF NEW BEGINNINGS

Today is Pentecost at my church, as it is in most of Christendom that still follows a liturgical calendar.   The rhythms of the 'church year', with its seasons, commemoration of past saints and various festivals is, indeed, part of Christianity.  In Wesley's always-useful metaphor, they are aspects of tradition, which is one 'leg' of the chair that upholds faith and practice in Methodism.

It is also the first Sunday since the Fresno Teachers Association's Bargaining Team reached a Tentative Agreement (TA) with our employer (Fresno Unified School District).   It is the first Sunday since an effort that began over a year ago to obtain a fair contract from administration, one that honored teacher time, provided a modest boost in salary and restored the value of our underfunded health benefits.  As the acting record-keeper of FTA's team, I took more than 160 pages of notes in 10-point Calibri, to the tune of over 50,000 words of abbreviated and often cryptic remarks about over 200 hours of meetings.

I say that not to brag, but just to point out how involving and dense the assignment has been.   From the very beginning, I knew that it would be huge amounts of additional work for which I would never receive any real additional compensation.   I would do it because I know that it would help me to the same extent that it would help the rest of my colleagues individually, and because collectively it would have a very positive impact not only on the teaching profession in the San Joaquin Valley, but on many other employees of Fresno Unified represented by other collective bargaining units.   These units typically have parity clauses in their contracts, sometimes called 'me-too' clauses, that guarantee that whatever basic terms are agreed to by FTA with the district on salary and benefits would apply to the other units as well.    So it's not just teachers that stand to gain from a fair contract:  custodians, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and so forth would all tend to do better.

That, in turn, transfers millions of dollars from the public agency that employs us into the local economy.   Families of teachers and other district employees have more money to make their bills, better health benefits to cover the unpredictable challenges, and greater ability to demonstrate income to realtors and bankers.  Because of this deal, there will now be more district employees who will now be able to get a mortgage, settle in the communities they serve and start raising families of their own.   The monies they spend  will stimulate the local economy, encouraging businesses to create more jobs and augmenting the tax base that helps feed local government, including Fresno Unified.   This is a big win not just for teachers, but for the Fresno community, that the largest employer in the county is poised to offer its employees substantially-improved wages and health benefits.

Has all my work been worth it?   Yes.   But is the work over?   Not quite.  The Association's Rep Council must approve sending it to our membership for an up-or-down vote (ratification).   The Rep Council meets on Monday.   If the TA is approved by the Rep Council, it goes to our members on Friday, June 13th.   In two sessions on that date, teachers by the thousands will be asked to approve the agreement.   At that moment, I will finally be able to breathe easier about the 362 days I spent on the Negotiating Team.   I will know that while it is not a perfect agreement, it was almost certainly the best deal that could be obtained at this time.   Since I am also on the FTA's Executive Board for another year, I will work in that role to help implement and monitor the terms of the new contract.   And, behind the scenes, I am going to work to improve the often-fractious and polarized governance of the Association.

At some point, one hopes, the fire that has burned inside and sustained this journey will be extinguished, and I can turn my attention to other interests.   But the fire has burned long and hard, and has left its mark on me. If I feel some satisfaction on the outcome, I also feel a little wounded on the inside.   It is hard to turn off the often-adversarial nature of the process, to quit running potentially-confrontational scenarios in my head when I'm trying to go to sleep at night, to suppress---again and again---the very real worry that all of my FTA work has left too little time for family, too little time for friendship, too little time for my church and my music and my students.   A price had to be paid to get this agreement.   So, today, on Pentecost, I will pray for another kind of fire:  the movement of the Spirit, to convict me of my shortcomings, purify my motives and prompt my future actions.


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