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Article updated: 3/14/2013 9:16 PM

Both sides release final offers in Dist. 94 contract dispute

By Marie Wilson

With contract talks at a standstill, the West Chicago High School District 94 school board and the union representing support staff employees on Thursday released details of their final contract offers.

The school board added about $100,000 in salaries and benefits to its previous proposal, but the sides still were unable to reach an agreement after four hours of negotiations Wednesday night, board spokesman Tony Molinaro said.

The move to post final offers to the district's website at d94.org comes roughly two weeks after the union declared an impasse in negotiations and accused the board of threatening to outsource maintenance and custodial jobs. The union represents 76 employees, including custodians, maintenance workers, clerks, deans' assistants, administrative assistants and personal care and program assistants.

The two sides have been at the bargaining table since February 2012 and called for help from a federal mediator in November. The support staff's last contract expired on June 30, 2012.

The final proposals, also posted on the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board's website, show differences in salaries, health insurance and retirement incentives.

The district's final offer calls for total salary increases of 7.25 percent over three years along with 7.25 percent in total bonus money for employees at the top of the wage scale, who would no longer receive regular raises. The combination of raises and other benefits would cost the district $525,000 over the life of the contract.

The bonuses offered to veteran employees were increased to equal the percentage raises newer employees would receive after Support Staff Association spokeswoman Monica Piszczek objected to lesser amounts for those at the top of the pay scale, Molinaro said.

"We made sure the percentages for each year -- whether it's a salary increase or a bonus -- were the same for all employees. We heard that and we made that change," he said. "It gives us some predictability so people aren't going way beyond the current scale. There is a top to the scale, but they're still getting some money each year."

The support staff union's final proposal includes total salary increases of 9 percent over three years for all employees, including those at the top of the wage scale.

Support staff members make an annual average of $39,746, according to district records. Their pay ranges from $20,042 for the lowest paid special education program assistant to $86,736 for the salary and overtime of the highest paid maintenance worker.

For health insurance, the board is proposing the same cost splits as offered to teachers and administrators. Current employees would pay 15 percent of the cost of three insurance plans, 20 percent of a fourth and 30 percent of the fifth and most costly.

An incentive of $500 encourages employees to switch from a no-deductible health plan to any of the other four options available. Molinaro said the district would save money if employees move to some of the plans, but in other cases, the switch only would serve to increase employee take-home pay.

"If they can take home more money, it's not coming out of us, so that's no problem," Molinaro said. "It would be helpful for them."

The union's proposal asks for either a $250, $500 or $1,000 incentive depending on which insurance plan an employee would switch to.

The last main issue dividing the sides is retirement bonuses, which the district is offering at $12,000, $10,000 or $8,000 for employees with 10 or more years of service who retire in either the first, second or third year of the proposed contract. But the board's proposal does not address any such bonuses beyond the length of the proposed contract.

The union, meanwhile, wants to maintain the current retirement incentives for the foreseeable future at $3,000 for retiring employees with between 17 and 19 years of experience and $4,000 for those with 20 or more years served.

Piszczek, the union spokeswoman, did not immediately return a call seeking comment. She previously said the board is considering outsourcing work now done by custodians and maintenance staff, leading the union to believe the district is not bargaining in good faith.

Molinaro said the two sides have agreed to meet next week to continue negotiations.

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