After two weeks of striking, educational support workers in a northwest suburban school district returned to their classrooms Monday, but said they will continue their "fight for a fair contract in court."
The group of more than 400 secretaries, program assistants, nurses and sign language interpretors said that while they refused the Palatine district's "alleged last, best offer," they "will put the students of District 15 first."
The district said it plans to continue negotiations "in good faith," but the Education Support Personnel Association said it has filed several unfair labor practice charges against the district.
“It’s deceptive, untruthful, regressive and quite frankly, it’s illegal to give ESPA an ultimatum and threaten members’ jobs because the District 15 board is not bargaining with us in good faith,” ESPA President Angie Drazkowski said in a statement. “We are extremely disappointed by the board’s actions, but are anxious to get back to the students that we love.”
The union and district have already been in court over the strike, with a judge last week ruling the district couldn't force some employees to stay on the job.
The employees were forced to return to work after attorneys for the district, Illinois' third-largest elementary school district, argued their strike "constituted a clear and present danger to the health or safety of the public."
Superintendent Scott Thompson said the judge was "sympathetic to the district and the needs of our students" but noted that more hearings would be needed to determine which employees specifically should be forced to return to work.
"In the absence of some of our employees, there will be challenges running our schools tomorrow," Thompson said in a letter to parents. "In spite of these challenges, our doors will remain open to serve our children who rely on us not only for education, but in many cases for food and shelter as well."
A new hearing on the matter is scheduled for Nov. 7.
The more than 450 educational support workers in the school district declared a strike two weeks ago after being without a contract since July.
“Our members work with the most vulnerable students in the district and also happen to be among the lowest paid. We believe asking for a 2.5 percent salary increase is a humble request,” ESPA President Angie Drazkowski said in a statement last Monday. “Those extra dollars will help ensure talented individuals continue to work within District 15 providing a better future for our students and our community.”
Thompson said last week there were "14 areas of contract agreement and three outstanding items remaining" following Sunday's negotiations.
"It's very atypical for a union to go on strike during positive negotiations," Thompson said.
The workers are asking for a 2.5 percent raise from their $11 and $13 hourly wages. The district's offer last week was 1.85 percent, officials said.
Union members said negotiations remain far apart in some areas, including salary and sick leave.
"We miss our students terribly," said ESPA secretary Jen Elkins said at the time. "We want to get back."