Zion-Benton News

District 60 teachers might strike

By Ginny Skweres
Zion-Benton News staff

The Waukegan School District 60 received a notice from its teachers union that teachers intend to strike if contract issues aren't resolved. That could happen as soon as Oct. 2.

Teachers are working without a contract and negotiations began in July. This is the fourth year teachers have begun the school year without a contract. The Union wanted to begin negotiations earlier but say the board was not open to that idea.

The District is trying to keep parents informed about updates in the situation. In an open letter to parents Wednesday, Superintendent Dr. Donaldo R. Batiste said the Board is trying to negotiate a multi-year contract with the Union and that the teachers deserve a fair agreement.

He states: "Regrettably, the Union appears unwilling to meet the Board halfway as we try, in good faith, to come to an agreement. Before even exchanging proposals, the teachers held a vote to strike. When the Board and Union did exchange initial proposals, the Union first demanded a 9 percent pay raise, a number completely out of proportion with the U.S. current inflation rate.

"The Board is committed to offering a package that is fair and in line with other school unions. The percent raise the Union is seeking, coupled with their requests on healthcare benefits, will negatively impact the District's fiscal solvency and make it difficult to manage the District and its education programs throughout the remainder of this year and next. Additionally, the Board feels strongly that it is in the best interest of our students to maintain the length of the school year, and not cut two days of learning time as the union requests," he stated.

According to Kenzo Shibata, media director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, "Teachers want to resolve negotiations in a timely manner to cause as little disruption to the school year as possible. Teachers do not want a strike, but will if necessary."

He also stated the Union is currently bargaining to have an earlier date set to negotiate a successor contract. Teachers represented by the Waukegan Teachers' Council submitted their most recent offer to the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board to comply with the law and move the process closer to a resolution with hopes of averting a strike.

Waukegan Teachers' Council President Kathy Schwarz expressed her disappointment, "As teachers, we try to set a good example for our students by following the rules. It's clear that the Board needs a lesson on bargaining in good faith. We're following the law to the letter as the District sits on its hands. The Board members do not even sit at the negotiation table, instead sending representatives who do not have the authority to strike a deal. We expect more from our school board and hope that they will be open and honest with the public in the coming weeks rather than hide behind letters from its attorneys," she stated.

The public posting of most recent offers was a step added to state law that requires a timetable for negotiations. Since the District and the Union still have yet to reach an agreement, both sides are required to submit their proposals to the IELRB. The Union initiated the process on Aug.26," Shibata stated.

Dr. Batista said if the teachers go on strike, the schools will have to close. "We are working with local organizations who may be able to offer safe, reasonably priced childcare. However, we want to stress to parents that they should try to prepare accordingly and have alternate childcare plans in place ahead of time," he stated.
The school board and union have a negotiation session scheduled for today, Sept. 25. District 60 spokesman said the board plans to make an offer before the end of the week.