District 211 union president: Teachers 'without a doubt' hope to avoid strike
The president of Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211's teachers union said Tuesday its members "without a doubt" hope to avoid a strike but are seeking a fair deal before their current contract expires June 30.
The union last week announced its members had authorized a strike if a new labor agreement isn't reached before the current deal ends.
"When we are so far apart, when our perspectives are so different, we want to focus on competitiveness with other districts," Local 1211 President Anita Lee said of last week's surprise announcement. "When we don't see eye to eye on those issues, you have to operate differently."
Last week's authorization removed a level of obscurity and added a level of honesty to the union's position in negotiations that have been going on for six months, Lee said.
District 211 Director of Communications Erin Holmes said the board of education remains committed to open, honest discussions with its teachers.
"We are working toward an agreement that fairly compensates our educators, sustains our tradition of attracting top talent and builds a continued culture of excellence while remaining fiscally responsible," she said of the talks, which now involve the assistance of a federal mediator.
Lee said the union is looking for a contract that acknowledges the difficulties of finding and retaining quality employees amid a nationwide teacher shortage.
She declined to discuss the details of either side's proposals.
"This is not where we wanted to be," Lee said. "I would say pretty early on we knew that we had work to do. It was evident that the board of education and the union were not seeing eye to eye."
While teaching has never been an easy profession, the industry has experienced greater challenges from the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lee said.
"Every member of society has been adversely affected by COVID, and that includes teachers," she said.
The Palatine High School social studies teacher said her daughter will be attending the high school in a few years, and she wants it to be as good then as it always has been.
"I see the good work my colleagues do for students on a day-in, day-out basis," she said.
"We're asking the board to protect our competitiveness," Lee added. "The board's offer won't protect the district from current shortages that are exacerbated by COVID-19."
While Lee said she could not predict what will happen if there's no deal in place June 30, she emphasized that the District 211 teachers union has never gone on strike.
The next mediation sessions are scheduled for Friday and next week Wednesday.
"Every session is the opportunity for an amicable ending," Lee said. "We want to continue to negotiate in good faith. We want to reach an amicable deal. That's the hope. What the strike authorization vote did was open up the lines of communication, oddly enough."