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Champaign teachers vote to authorize a strike

A Sept 18 vote by the rank and file of the Champaign (Ill.) Federation of Teachers revealed that 97 percent of them would give their negotiating team the authorization to call a strike, the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette reports.

While Champaign Unit School District 4 board President Laurie Bonnett acknowledged the union’s right to take a vote, she implied, in her comments to the News-Gazette, that doing so during ongoing negotiations wasn’t a sign of good faith, especially since an agreement is still within reach. The two sides agreed on six key issues at the last meeting with a federal mediator. Other board members were disappointed that a vote occurred.

“The offer the district has brought forward includes an additional raise on top of the annual ‘step’ increase in the salary schedule and exceeds the rate of inflation,” a statement issued by the school district said. “The current salary proposal would continue to ensure that Unit 4 teachers are among the highest paid in the area, in addition to offering fully paid health and dental insurance and pension benefits.”

A strike is at least 28 days away, however, due to the time frame for posting final best offers from both sides to the website for the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board, here. The earliest date a strike could occur is Oct 18.

The main issue in Champaign is money: Teachers accepted a salary freeze in 2011, according to materials distributed by the teachers’ union but undisputed in the article, and only a 1.4 percent pay increase last year, despite 2-percent inflation in the area.

To make its case, the union said it has never asked for “anything the district can’t afford,” the News-Gazette reported: “Financial documents show the district has a surplus of almost $12 million in the education fund alone,” a statement by the union said. “That fund is up by almost $600,000 this year as the district’s revenue sources increase.”

An updated version of the article reports that another issue in the potential strike is the work teachers are required to do when they are with students and when they’re working without students present. No additional details were provided about this issue.

So, the board and union representatives will meet again Wednesday. If no agreement can be reached, they’ll have to file their best final offers with the IELRB by the end of the day, Thursday, Sept 26. The IELRB has a week to post the offers to its website, and they have to be posted for two weeks before teachers can strike, hence the Oct 18 date.

Unit 4 serves two high schools—Centennial and Central high schools, both in Champaign—three middle schools, 11 elementary schools, and the Champaign Early Childhood Center.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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