West Chicago District 94 teachers a step closer to going on strike
The union representing West Chicago High School teachers has declared an impasse in contract negotiations after almost two years at the table in a move that could set the stage for a strike as early as next month.
The union filed notice with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board on Wednesday morning, just hours after its most recent bargaining session with the school board.
Both sides now have a week to exchange final contract offers. They are scheduled to meet again on Jan. 16, 22 and 30.
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.
Union President Brad Larson said teachers will discuss the possibility of a strike on Jan. 17 and 24.
"A strike is the last thing teachers want, and we are continuing to do everything we can in order to avoid that possibility," Larson said.
But the public posting of the bargaining proposals is required by law as one of the steps the union must take before teachers legally can walk off the job.
"While we have seen some forward movement and made some progress toward a settlement, we are not convinced that progress warrants the kind of optimism that would lead us to rely on negotiations from this point forward," Larson said.
"We've done the math. We know the district has the money to meet our requests for a fair contract without raising taxes," he said in a written statement. "We think it's time the community has a chance to see the impact of the board's proposals on D94 students."
In a written statement, school board President Gary Saake said the district's most recent proposal called for a four-year pact that would give 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.
He said the union's most recent proposal sought salary increases averaging 21.98 percent over five years, with a low of 7.34 percent and a high of 30.89 percent.
Saake said the union proposal would increase district expenditures by an estimated $10.7 million over five years. The district's offer, he said, would increase expenditures by roughly $2.9 million over the same period.
"We have the utmost respect for the faculty," he said, "however, we do not believe that's what the voters elected the board to do, nor would it be in the best interests of students, the district or the community."
But Larson said Wednesday the school board proposal isn't "a big enough step in our view to maintain the district's ability to hire and retain high-quality teachers now or over the long term."
The board and the West Chicago High School Teachers Association -- the union representing 141 district employees -- started preliminary contract discussions in April 2016 and have been exchanging proposals since last April.
But negotiations have stalled over salaries, health benefits, the length of a pact and other sticking points.
The divisions have become more pronounced in recent weeks, with the union taking a vote of no confidence in Saake and calling on other board members to elect a new leader. More than two dozen teachers picketed outside school district headquarters on Tuesday night while negotiations were going on inside.
Larson said teachers will conduct another informational picket before next Tuesday's school board meeting at the high school.
Teachers have been working under the terms of their old contract since it expired Aug. 13.