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Article updated: 12/20/2012 5:19 PM

Grayslake District 46 seeks replacement teachers in event of strike

By Bob Susnjara

Grayslake Elementary District 46 is seeking replacement teachers to work on a temporary basis should the regular instructors strike if they don't have a new contract by mid-January, officials announced Thursday.

District 46 issued a statement about the potential job availabilities but officials said they remain optimistic a new deal with the teachers union can be achieved before the strike date. They said they must be prepared if talks prove unsuccessful.

Lake County Federation of Teachers union business agent Jim Pergander said he perceives the call for applications as a sign District 46 doesn't plan to reach an agreement before the Jan. 16 strike date. He said both sides are trying to arrange a bargaining session for early January.

"It doesn't seem they're working in good faith with us right now," Pergander said. "We didn't expect this."

District 46, in its latest offer, proposes a two-year deal instead of a contract for only the 2012-13 academic season. Teachers still would not receive base salary hikes, but the proposal calls for a $1,000 stipend paid to them in the 2013-14 school year if they have not submitted a retirement notice.

While both sides agree on the contract length, they remain apart on compensation.

District 46 said in its statement the school board "may consider providing services to students during a strike, if feasible." The board is taking applications from "appropriately certified teachers" to temporarily replace instructors "who choose to participate in the strike."

It also says applications will be accepted from candidates interested in support staff positions -- such as reading assistants, nurses and secretaries -- covered by a separate union agreement. Though not at an impasse, District 46 says it "needs to be prepared" if negotiations for a new support staff union contract break down.

"Current District 46 staff may elect to apply for any vacancy," the statement says.

District 46 officials said they would not have any additional comment. Pergander said the union had been under the impression the district would not try to hold classes in the event of a strike.

An expert in labor relations said Thursday that District 46's move to solicit replacement employees is a risky gambit. Robert Bruno, a University of Illinois-Chicago professor of labor and employment relations, said research shows many strikes in the 1980s became prolonged because companies increasingly hired replacement workers.

"Threatening to replace workers traditionally hardens a union's position," Bruno said.

While the teachers have the legal right to strike, Bruno said, District 46 has sent a message their jobs are not secure as they head into Christmas break.

Under District 46's latest proposal, raises based on longevity and education would not be provided to teachers in either of the two years. Stipends for extracurricular and supervisory duties would be frozen at current levels.

Instructors initially sought 3 percent base salary raises in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 academic years. Pergander said the union has dropped the request for base salary hikes.

However, the teachers still object to the district's proposal that would eliminate varying raises based on longevity and education. The union's revised offer calls for those hikes that are due in 2012-13 to be delayed to the 2013-14 school year.

Teachers union members also have objected to the district's effort to end 6 percent annual base salary raises over the final four years of employment for teachers who give their retirement notices.

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