Judge: All District 15 support staff can picket

Judge rules in favor of union, lifts temporary restraining order

 
 
Updated 10/25/2017 8:50 AM
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  • A judge ruled Tuesday that nurses and special education classroom assistants are allowed to participate in a support employees strike in Palatine Township Elementary District 15. This was the strike's first day Oct. 16 at Winston Campus elementary and junior high schools in Palatine.

      A judge ruled Tuesday that nurses and special education classroom assistants are allowed to participate in a support employees strike in Palatine Township Elementary District 15. This was the strike's first day Oct. 16 at Winston Campus elementary and junior high schools in Palatine. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

To correct an earlier version of this report, Judge Neil Cohen will not consider a permanent injunction during Nov. 7 status hearing.

Striking Palatine Township District 15 support staff, including nurses and classroom aides, will be able to rejoin the picket line, a Cook County judge ruled Tuesday.

Judge Neil Cohen on Tuesday denied a motion filed by attorneys for District 15 to prevent certain Education Support Personnel Association members from going on strike, according to an Illinois Education Association representative. Cohen also lifted a temporary restraining order barring "essential" workers from taking part in the strike.

Entering its eighth day Wednesday, the strike started with 454 members -- including secretaries, clerical workers and the nurses and special ed classroom aides -- in the local affiliated with the Illinois Education Association.

However, the number was reduced Oct. 17 when Cohen issued the temporary restraining order, mandating the 168 striking nurses and special education classroom aides return immediately.

"We've always believed our members have a legal right to go on strike, and today's court ruling reaffirms that right," IEA spokesperson Bridget Shanahan said. "The 168 who were forced back to work will rejoin their fellow members on the picket line. We are stronger together."

District 15 parents who choose to keep their children at home as the strike continues will be granted excused absences, Superintendent Scott Thompson said in an emailed statement Tuesday evening.

"In the absence of some of our employees, there will be challenges running our schools tomorrow," Thompson said. "In spite of these challenges, our doors will remain open to serve our children who rely on us not only for education, but in many cases for food and shelter as well."

In arguing the nurses and special education aides have a right to strike, Illinois Education Association attorney Angie Cowan Hamada wrote in court documents filed for Tuesday's hearing that the union members in question should not be classified as essential or that such a designation has legal significance. The union rejects District 15's position there was a "clear and present danger" to hundreds of children ages 3 to 14 at school without the nurses and classroom assistants.

Separately, the union filed an unfair labor practice complaint Monday with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board. In part, the complaint contends strikers are being improperly denied medical benefits. The union contends the benefits that should be effective now were paid in advance.

District 15 spokeswoman Morgan Delack said officials believe the union's accusations are without merit. She noted an Oct. 3 letter sent to the employees stated the medical benefits would be halted if they went on strike.

"The district is confident there will be no such finding and we have not committed any unfair labor practices," Delack said.

Negotiations overseen by a federal mediator are to resume Sunday, Oct. 29. A roughly 14-hour bargaining session ended without a deal early Monday.

Parent volunteers, who are common throughout District 15 year-round, have filled some gaps at schools since the strike started. Delack said parents who are contacting building principals to volunteer have been assigned duties such as supervising lunch and recess, and helping with getting students on and off the buses.

Delack added the parents, like all other school visitors, must have their driver's licenses or other government-issued identification cards placed in a scanning system that flags registered child sex offenders and any custody disputes as part of an instant background check.

Under the currently available public document, District 15 was offering a five-year contract with a 1.85 percent increase in each of the first two years, and 1.85 percent to 2.25 percent annually for the three-year balance to coincide with the applicable tax cap.

The union was seeking a 2.5 percent annual wage hike in each year of a five-year deal. Shanahan said that would generally amount to 10 cents to 25 cents more an hour. The union also has sought continuation of a $9,000-per-employee retirement benefit.

Under the previous deal, pay ranged from $11.30 an hour to $37.76 per hour, depending on the job and years of employment. Talks on a new deal began in February. The employees have been without a contract since July 1.

Both parties are finalizing details for another mediation session this week, Thompson said.

Schools remain open for the district's roughly 12,800 students, in part because the teachers' contract doesn't allow them to honor the support employees' picket lines. The teachers union made a controversial 10-year deal with the district in 2016.

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