West Chicago High School teachers are preparing to go on strike Friday if they are unable to reach a contract settlement with the school board during a last-ditch negotiation session Thursday night.
The West Chicago High School Teachers Association announced the potential strike date after a meeting of the union's 141 members late Tuesday. A walkout would leave roughly 2,000 students out of classes and cancel all sports and extracurricular activities at the high school.
"It's been nearly two years since we started bargaining with the board," Union President Brad Larson said in a statement. "If we don't reach an acceptable tentative agreement during Thursday night's bargaining session, we are prepared to go on strike on Friday. This is not a decision we came to lightly.
"The last thing we want to do is go on strike, but we know WEGO is worth fighting for. We need to be able to attract and retain quality teachers so we can continue to provide an outstanding education to our students."
The union and supporters are planning to march from the high school at 4:30 p.m. Thursday to district offices in West Chicago. The demonstration will end with a rally during the negotiation session.
Teachers then will return to the high school to stage a "grade-in" until the two sides are done bargaining Thursday night.
Negotiators on Monday met with a federal mediator for more than four hours without coming to an agreement on a proposed four-year deal. The school board presented a new contract offer that included a traditional salary schedule and would increase salaries for union members by an average of roughly 12 percent over four years.
"The board presented a fixed salary schedule (Monday) evening, which the association had indicated was an extremely high priority for them, versus the CPI-based formula that was in our prior proposals," school board President Gary Saake said in a statement Monday night. "The same total dollar figure was included, just distributed differently. There was significant discussion about the proposed salary schedule, and adjustments were made to it during the evening."
A teacher with a bachelor's degree and no previous teaching experience who was hired at the beginning of this year would continue to make $42,932 in the first year of the contract, retroactive to August, under the board's proposed schedule. That teacher's salary would increase to $44,669 in the second year, $45,902 in the third year and $46,935 in the final year.
A teacher with the same credentials who was hired in 2016-17 received a $42,932 salary last year and would make $44,447 in the first year of the contract, $45,674 in the second year, $46,935 in the third year and $48,813 in the final year of the contract. The teachers union has been seeking pay increases of roughly 20 percent over four years, district officials say.
The association first declared an impasse in negotiations in January and then filed a 10-day notice of its intent to strike, allowing teachers to legally walk off the job as early as Monday. Teachers earlier this week also began occupying a downtown West Chicago building the union is leasing for a potential strike headquarters.
The board and the union started preliminary contract discussions in April 2016. Teachers have been working under the terms of a one-year contract extension that expired in August.
The district has made arrangements with park districts and libraries in Carol Stream, Winfield and West Chicago to offer programming in the event teachers walk picket lines for the first time since 1984.