Teachers in Illinois’ largest high school district could soon go on strike if a deal isn’t reached in the coming days, union officials said.
Andrew Cantrell, field service director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, said members of the Northwest Suburban Teachers Union Local 211 hope to avoid a strike, but if progress isn’t made, the group could strike as early as Tuesday.
“We are ready to negotiate,” Cantrell said. “We are. Like I said, we’ve been in talks with the board and we’re going to continue talking with them and try to get this settled because there’s no reason for us to be here.”
Though negotiations have been ongoing for a year, current discussions have left the district and the union about $2 million apart, according to Cantrell.
“We are dealing with a district that is very flush in reserves and budget surpluses and can easily afford this proposal,” he said.
But the district argued the union’s demands aren’t “not financially sound.”
“After more than a year of negotiating in good faith with the Northwest Suburban Teachers Union Local 211, including bringing in a federal mediator, our Board offered the Union a proposed agreement that honors the quality work of our staff members and protects the sustainability of the District’s student programming,” the Township High School District 211 Board of Education wrote in a letter to students and parents. “The union rejected our offer and has communicated its intent to strike, timing it to occur during semester exams, which will be a hardship to students. We have never had a teachers’ strike in our district, ever.”
Union members said talks have come “down to a handful of issues” that aren’t entirely based on salary, like adding counselors to help students.
So far, the district said its latest offer includes salary increases “well above a 20 percent increase over the span of the four-year contract,” additional compensation via extra duties like coaching or teaching summer school, no increase for health insurance costs for the year, and lifelong retirement benefits that “commonly exceed $100,000 per year and increase by 3 percent each year once the individual reaches 61 years of age.”
“The Board’s proposal is a very strong package, but the Union demands even higher amounts,” the board’s statement read.
A Board of Education meeting took place Thursday night at Conant High School in Hoffman Estates, and a massive crowd gathered to voice their concerns about a potential strike.
"I'm appalled to look you all in eye right now," John Braglia, union president, said during the meeting. "Fortunately, our skin is thick and your devaluation of our work shall not prevent us from doing what we love."
Township High School District 211 is in Chicago's northwest suburbs. It serves nearly 12,000 students in five high schools, including Conant High School, Fremd High School, Hoffman Estates High School, Palatine High School and Schaumburg High School. It also has 175 special needs students at two alternative high schools.
“No one wants to strike on our side, but we teach our students to stand up for what is right every day,” the union wrote on its Facebook page.