Judge Lifts Temporary Restraining Order, Allowing Dozens of Educational Support Workers to Return to Picket Lines

A judge on Tuesday lifted a temporary restraining order that kept dozens of educational support workers from striking at northwest suburban schools this week. 

The 168 members of the Education Support Personnel Association will now be able to join nearly 300 other members in District 15 at the picket lines Wednesday following the ruling by Judge Neil Cohen. 

“We’ve always believed our members have a legal right to go on strike, and today’s court ruling reaffirms that right," IEA spokesperson Bridget Shanahan said in a statement. "The 168 who were forced back to work will rejoin their fellow members on the picket line. We are stronger together."

The employees were forced to return to work last week 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."

Another mediation session is expected this week. A new hearing on the matter is scheduled for Nov. 7. 

Support staff in Palatine schools returned to the picket line Monday as a strike in District 15 entered its second week. 

After 14 hours of contract negotiations Sunday, the staff's union and the district failed to reach a deal. 

The more than 450 educational support workers in the school district declared a strike more than a week ago after being without a contract since July. 

The 454 members of the Educational Support Personnel Association include secretaries, clericals, classroom aides, nurses and sign language interpreters in the district.

“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 there are "presently 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 last offer was 1.85 percent, officials said. 

"We miss our students terribly," said ESPA secretary Jen Elkins. "We want to get back."

But union members said negotiations remain far apart in some areas, including salary and sick leave. 

Schools will remain open Wednesday but Thompson added that parents can keep their children at home as an "excused absence" if they choose. 

"These employees are important," Thompson said. "The decision to close schools is a heavy one. We made the tough decision to keep schools open." 

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