West Chicago teachers could hold strike vote in 'near future'
West Chicago High School teachers on Wednesday discussed authorizing a strike - but made no decision - after declaring an impasse in contract talks that have dragged on for nearly two years.
Union leaders held the "deliberative" meeting one day after making little headway in a two-hour negotiating session with the school board's bargaining team and a federal mediator.
Brad Larson, president of the union that represents 141 teachers, said he anticipates there will be a motion made at "some point in the very near future" to vote to authorize a strike. Teachers would not walk off the job until next month at the earliest.
Teachers have indicated they'll support a strike as a last resort if the two sides fail to reach a deal, Larson said.
"I think members of the teachers association would prefer we reach a settlement and not have to go on strike," Larson said. "No one has a desire to go on strike."
The union filed the impasse notice with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board last week, forcing both sides to exchange "final" contract offers Wednesday.
The school board submitted an offer based on its Jan. 9 proposal to the West Chicago High School Teachers Association. The union indicated its impasse offer would include a new proposal, school board President Gary Saake said in a statement.
If the two sides are unable to reach an agreement by Jan. 23, the state labor board will disclose the details of both offers the following day on its website at illinois.gov/elrb. The public posting of the bargaining proposals is required by law as one of the steps the union must take before teachers legally can strike. Negotiators are scheduled to meet again on Jan. 23 and 30 and Feb. 7 and 12.
The sides signed tentative agreements on nine of 11 language items proposed by the union during Tuesday's session. Larson said the items dealt with, among other things, the school calendar and teaching load work. The association also proposed a contract term of four years, but the board's team declined to sign off, he said.
The two sides "essentially" have agreed the new contract should cover four years, he said, but that hasn't been finalized.
The real stalemate, though, concerns teacher pay and health benefits.
In the wake of the impasse filing, Saake said in a statement last week that the district's most-recent proposal called for a four-year pact giving teachers a cumulative raise averaging 8.73 percent over the life of the contract, with a low of 7.59 percent and a high of 9.66 percent.
The district's offer, he said, would increase expenditures by roughly $2.9 million over four years.
By contrast, Saake said the union's Dec. 13 proposal would increase district expenditures by an estimated $9.3 million over five years.
On Wednesday, Saake said in the statement the union's most-recent proposal seeks raises averaging 22 percent over five years, with increases ranging from about 8 percent to 31 percent. A four-year analysis of the union's proposal shows a $6.7 million cost.
"In total, the increase in cost of their proposal would be over twice the amount of new revenue the district projects receiving over that time," the statement read.
But Larson said board cost estimates are misleading. He said the district's figures include "fixed costs" outside the scope of negotiations, including those related to teacher retirement.
Larson said the salary increases proposed by the union would cost the district roughly $3.4 million.
If the two offers are made public, the board plans to hold an informational meeting for parents and the public.