Teachers' 'Unity Walk' back on in Bensenville District 2

  • Jaimie Zulkowski, an ESL teacher at Bensenville's Johnson Elementary School, joins fellow educators Wednesday during a "Unity Walk" to show support for union negotiators and to raise awareness about contract talks in District 2.

      Jaimie Zulkowski, an ESL teacher at Bensenville's Johnson Elementary School, joins fellow educators Wednesday during a "Unity Walk" to show support for union negotiators and to raise awareness about contract talks in District 2. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Bensenville teachers participate in a "Unity Walk" Wednesday. They carried signs that read "Honk if you love teachers" and "I teach the leaders of the 21st century."

      Bensenville teachers participate in a "Unity Walk" Wednesday. They carried signs that read "Honk if you love teachers" and "I teach the leaders of the 21st century." Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Katie Ciesla, an eighth-grade special education teacher at Blackhawk Middle School in Bensenville, was among roughly 50 teachers who joined a "Unity Walk" to demonstrate support for union negotiators and raise awareness about contract talks in District 2.

      Katie Ciesla, an eighth-grade special education teacher at Blackhawk Middle School in Bensenville, was among roughly 50 teachers who joined a "Unity Walk" to demonstrate support for union negotiators and raise awareness about contract talks in District 2. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • "We are out here supporting our union," seventh-grade reading teacher Beth Moritz said during a "Unity Walk" Wednesday in Bensenville Elementary District 2.

      "We are out here supporting our union," seventh-grade reading teacher Beth Moritz said during a "Unity Walk" Wednesday in Bensenville Elementary District 2. Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 3/14/2018 5:34 PM

As union representatives huddled inside Blackhawk Middle School Wednesday to craft a response to Bensenville Elementary District 2's latest contract proposal, about 50 teachers marched outside to support their efforts.

But just an hour before the "Unity Walk" began, Superintendent James Stelter released a joint statement from the district and the union indicating the marching teachers did not speak for the teachers association.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Contract talks could resume as early as Tuesday, the statement said, but the teachers who decided to march were doing so on their own.

"Teachers who gather publicly will be speaking for themselves, not for the association," the statement read. "The association has asked them to re-use the same positive points presented at other public gatherings in the past."

Several teachers walking Wednesday said they were unaware the union was not supporting their efforts, but they said their message remained the same. They carried signs that read "Honk if you love teachers" and "I teach the leaders of the 21st century."

"We are out here supporting our union, even if they're telling us we're not supporting our people inside working on our counterproposal," seventh-grade reading teacher Beth Moritz said. "If I'm out here on behalf of myself, then I'm Beth Moritz and I'm out here supporting anyone who would like my support."

Blackhawk special education teacher Sara Taylor said she has heard the administration use terms such as "power move" and "aggressive tactics" to describe Wednesday's march, but she disagrees.

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"Our intention is very simple. We're not here to intimidate anybody or cause distrust between administrators and negotiators. We legitimately are here to voice our support for the people putting in the hard work for us," Taylor said. "We respectfully disagree that us being out here puts anyone in a position to hurt negotiations. We don't understand how it can be viewed as anything other than positive message for the teachers who educate the children of this community."

Teachers say some of the sticking points in contract talks center on insurance benefits, salary and a longevity clause the district is seeking that would give newer teachers higher increases and at a faster pace than tenured ones.

"People who have taught here for over a decade feel they've dedicated a part of their lives to this community and it would be unfair to offer such a raise to younger teachers," Blackhawk special education teacher Sarah Taylor said. "It should be equal and fair."

The teachers are working under terms of a contract that expired at the start of the school year.

"We all have been in negotiations 18 months and we want to stand behind our union reps and our negotiators so we can have a contract that is fair and everyone agrees on," said Rikki Valle, a special-education teacher at Johnson Elementary.

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