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updated: 1/17/2013 9:56 AM

Dist. 33 teacher's union approves setting date for strike

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Teachers in West Chicago Elementary District 33 on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly in favor of authorizing union negotiators to set a strike date after spending more than 15 months at the bargaining table without reaching an agreement on a proposed three-year contract.

Union officials said the strike vote won approval from 96 percent of the union's membership. The action came, at least in part, in response to the school board's announcement last week that it would impose its last contract offer if an agreement isn't reached by Feb. 21. The district's 284 union teachers serve roughly 4,000 students at seven schools and an early learning center.

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Union spokeswoman Mary Catherine Kosmach said she hopes the school board will offer to return to the bargaining table before the union sets a strike date. Kosmach has said the union will give the district 24 hours notice before any job action.

The two sides remain deadlocked on issues including salary, health insurance, retirement provisions, class size and teacher appraisals, according to a statement from the union.

"We want to meet at the table," Kosmach said. "But if we have to, we will strike."

"The teachers are frustrated," she added. "Teachers want a settlement -- they want a fair settlement. They want the board to meet us instead of threatening us. We have to work together. They have to be willing to negotiate."

School board President Chris Scheck could not be immediately reached for comment Wednesday, but board members have said they've compromised as much as possible given the district's financial challenges. They also have said the difference between the board's last contract offer and the union's would total roughly $3.5 million over the next three years.

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