22 months into talks, still no deal in West Chicago District 94

West Chicago High School teachers plan to stage a second "grade-in" next week to show support for union negotiators still locked in contract talks with the school board after 22 months.

Teachers held their first such demonstration outside a bargaining session that lasted two hours Wednesday night. About two dozen teachers graded student work while members of the union presented their counterproposal to the board's latest offer of a three-year deal.

The grade-in comes as both sides are increasingly frustrated with the slow-moving negotiations. Bargaining teams requested a federal mediator in October to try to end the dispute over teacher pay, health insurance and other sticking points.

Educators plan to reproduce the demonstration for the next session set for 5 p.m. Dec. 20.

"Those teachers were there to support our bargaining team and to demonstrate to the board of education the resolve of the teachers in trying to achieve the goals that have been set by the association," said Brad Larson, president of the union that represents 141 district employees.

Larson said Thursday the West Chicago Teachers Association has not yet made its "best and final" offer.

"I would say given the fact that this has been going on for 22 months and given the fact that I think both sides want to put this to bed, if there's not a major breakthrough in the near future, we're probably going to be looking at best and final offers in the not-so-distant future," he said.

He also did not rule out the possibility of declaring an impasse in negotiations. That would mean filing a notice with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, forcing each side to exchange final contract offers and deliver them to the board.

If they still can't reach an agreement, the labor relations board would disclose details of both proposals on its website.

"We're not ruling anything out," Larson said. "We don't desire to do that. We would like to settle this quickly and amicably if possible, but I can't say that anything is off the table."

Larson has continued to raise concerns that the board's contract proposals would hamper the district's ability to attract and retain high-quality teachers.

"We're looking at trying to put in place a structure that does not reduce employees' earnings. The board is essentially looking for concessions, fairly big concessions, especially if you look at what those concessions would do to a teacher's lifetime earnings," he said.

School board President Gary Saake said there was "some movement" in the union's latest offer, but it "doesn't appear to be a proposal that's sustainable to the district."

Teachers have called for a five-year contract - one year shorter than their previous offers, Saake said.

But he could not provide details about compensation because he and other board members are still reviewing the terms and need to apply a pricing model to see how much the proposal would cost the district.

Saake said the board plans to finalize its next proposal in time for the Dec. 20 session with the mediator.

"Every time there's movement you have to be optimistic about that, that things are moving in a positive direction," he said. "We would like it to be resolved. It's very draining on the district, not just on the staff. We want to reach resolution."

  The West Chicago High School District 94 board and teachers union will resume contract talks Dec. 20 with a federal mediator. Mark Black/, August 2017
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