Palatine Township Elementary District 15 support employees who returned to work Monday without a new deal after a 10-day strike can't suddenly walk out again, according to state law.
All 454 secretaries, clerical employees, nurses and classroom aides in the Educational Support Personnel Association union were expected at work for the first time since they walked off their jobs Oct. 16. Their return to work came after being informed by district officials last weekend that a process was about to start to seek replacements.
Negotiations for a new contract are expected to continue, but the workers cannot suddenly return to the picket line if talks break down. The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board requirements would necessitate another 10-day intent-to-strike notice to be filed with the agency after a failed attempt at mediation.
Officials said District 15 made a "last, best" offer the Illinois Education Association-affiliated union local rejected Friday in the last bargaining session overseen by a federal mediator. In part, the district offered a five-year contract with 2 percent annual raises and a $9,000-per-employee retirement benefit until 2019. The union's proposal included a 2.5 percent increase in each year of the new contract.
District 15 spokeswoman Morgan Delack said Monday attempts were being made to solidify the next bargaining date. She also said gestures, such as bringing treats to work, were made by employees who had been walking picket lines and their colleagues to create a positive atmosphere.
"It has been an emotional time for our staff members, and we are sensitive to that," Delack said. "Our building leaders and other staff members are taking steps to ensure (support) staff have a warm welcome back to work today. Our focus remains on the students, and we are moving forward as a team to ensure the needs of our students are met."
Illinois Education Association spokeswoman Bridget Shanahan said the employees returned to work to be with their students and to help provide a better education for them.
"We put the children's needs first because it was clear after several illegal and unethical actions by the board, the board had no interest in coming to a fair agreement and getting employees back to work as soon as possible," Shanahan said.
Still to be decided is an unfair labor practice complaint the IEA filed last week on behalf of the union local. Among the accusations is the employees paid in advance for health benefits that the district halted during the strike.
Delack said while a formal response is not due until sometime in November, officials "remain confident that the unfair labor practice filing has no merit."
The strike took a twist Oct. 17 when Cook County Judge Neil Cohen issued a temporary restraining order that forced 168 "essential" nurses and special education classroom aides back to work immediately. A week later, the nurses and classroom aides returned to the picket lines after Cohen denied a motion filed by District 15 lawyers to prevent them from striking.
Negotiations on a new deal began in February.