Major push underway to officially unionize Clovis teachers

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CLOVIS, Calif. (KGPE) — Clovis Unified School District (CUSD) teachers are making their voices heard. An effort began this week to legally recognize a newly formed teachers union in the district. The union would include school counselors and other educators. 

On Monday, several dozen Clovis Unified employees signed an open letter announcing an effort to make the Association of Clovis Educators (ACE) a formal union in the district. However, there is some pushback.

Kristen Heimerdinger is one of the main organizers of ACE. She says more than 50% of the district’s 2100+ employees who aren’t already in a union will have to sign a petition in support of ACE, after which the petition would be sent to the state and signatures verified to fully recognize ACE.

“The actual fear is that we would no longer put students first,” Heimerdinger said. “And I just can’t see how that would be the outcome.”

Heimerdinger teaches economics at Buchanan High School. She says the petition will be open until enough singatures are gathered, and is hopeful of the ACE will be officially recognized by next school year. She says other district employees like bus drivers and cafeteria workers have union representation, and it’s finally time to give teachers the representation they deserve. 

Joni Sumter and Ryan Smith also teach in the district and started the group, Clovis Teachers for Clovis, to advocate against unionization.

“As soon as you interject a union you provide this legal barrier between teachers, administrators, students, and the community,” Sumter said.

Sumter and Smith say the representation staff and faculty have with administration now is efficient, and the  labor policies unions enforce could pose difficulties, such as penalzing a teacher wanting to stay after hours to work on lesson plans.  

“Teachers don’t feel like they can stay and do their job or their job the way they want to without upsetting the union that represents them,” Smith said. “At the risk of not getting the protections or benefits of that union, that’s where it really becomes an issue. “

Manuel Bonilla is the president of the Fresno Teachers Association in the nearby Fresno Unified School District. He says having legal protections from a union sanctioned by the state provides better oversight on the administrator-teacher relationship.   He says over 90% of Fresno Unified teachers belong to that district’s union. 

“It does not have to be adversarial,” Bonilla said. “I think in our time over the last six years we’ve proven that at Fresno Unified. Organizing a union helps to formalize that relationship in a different way.”

A statement from CUSD in response to the effort on educator to unionize can be read below.

We know there are groups currently working both toward and against the possibility of a teachers’ union in Clovis Unified, and in the midst of this dialogue among our teachers, the administration remains committed to keeping our doors open for conversation and working together with those groups representing our employees in the decision-making process.

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April 29 2021 12:00 am

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