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updated: 12/14/2012 12:25 AM

West Chicago teachers threatening to strike

Union members authorize job action after board declares impasse

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Teachers in West Chicago Elementary District 33 filed an intent to strike notice Thursday that could have faculty members walking picket lines as early as Jan. 7.

Union leaders said the district's 284 teachers voted overwhelmingly Wednesday night to authorize the possible job action. The move comes after the school board declared an impasse in contract talks on Dec. 3 following roughly 14 months at the bargaining table.

"This is a teaching body that does not feel valued, and we are reacting to a school board that's literally pushing us out the door," Mary Catherine Kosmach, the union's chief negotiator, said Thursday. "We must have a fair agreement. If it were not for the board's unwillingness to compromise, this type of action wouldn't be necessary."

The two sides have been unable to reach agreement on salaries, retirement plans and insurance benefits. Also still on the table are issues involving class sizes, teacher workloads and the length of teachers' work days.

Both sides asked for a federal mediator to enter the talks in September and have met a handful of times since, most recently on Dec. 3.

When the school board declared an impasse, it forced both sides to file their final offers Monday with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board. Both offers will be made public Dec. 17 on the labor board's website.

School board President Christine Scheck said Thursday she was "disappointed" the district had not been formally told of the strike vote.

The school board, she said, has been focusing on the release of the final offers.

"What the board is planning on doing after that point is to hold community meetings to explain to the community and staff the board's position and the rationale behind it." she said. "After the meetings, we will reach out to the union."

Both sides, however, say they are willing to pick up negotiations that have been stalled since the Dec. 3 meeting.

"We're willing to negotiate in good faith with a board that is willing to compromise," Kosmach said. "But we have not heard from anyone at the district since Dec. 3."

Scheck also expressed a willingness to resume talks.

"We are ready to meet through winter break, even Christmas Eve," she said. "We are more than willing to meet to work this out."

No future negotiating sessions have been scheduled.

The district serves roughly 4,000 students at six elementary schools, one middle school and a preschool that meets at two locations.

Strike: 'We are ready to meet through winter break'

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