Friday, August 7, 2020
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W. Chgo. volunteer teachers suspend a few clubs

The September 19 board meeting in West Chicago District 94 is shaping up to be a show, given that several student clubs at the school were suspended unilaterally by the teachers’ union in the wake of contract negotiations between union representatives and the school board that have failed since August 13 to produce a new contract.

Dodgeball in the gym at W. Chicago H.S. (Daniel X O’Neil / Flickr CC)

The suspended clubs include only those sponsored by teachers who were volunteering their time; the list doesn’t include any clubs or extracurricular activities for which teachers are being paid a stipend. Examples include:

  • Video Game Club
  • Anime Club
  • Club Green
  • Equestrian Club

  • French Club
  • Bowling
  • Film Club
  • Book Club

The unilateral decision by the teachers’ union to suspend these clubs comes as union representatives say contract talks between teachers and the District 94 school board have so far failed to produce a contract that is acceptable to the union membership.

Teachers worked last year under a one-year extension to a contract that ended in August 2016. That extension has now expired, and the board and union are in talks to reach an agreement over the terms of a new contract.

As of our press date, no final offers have been posted by either side in these talks with the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board, and there is no indication that a strike is pending.

That doesn’t mean the teachers’ union is happy with the present state, though.

“Working without a contract means that our working conditions and our salary have not changed since last year,” The Wildcat Chronicle, the student newspaper at West Chicago High School, quoted Brad Larson, president of the teachers’ union, as saying.

“That’s a problem. What that means is that we’re making the exact same amount of money as last year, we’re receiving the same benefits as last year, and we’re doing our jobs as required by the contract of last year. You can’t work without a contract forever.”

District 94 Superintendent Doug Domeracki sent a letter to families on August 23, saying the school board hasn’t reduced the number of paid extracurricular coaching, advisor, or sponsor positions at the high school.

“Volunteer-led clubs exist only if there is student interest and a volunteer staff member willing to act as a sponsor to the club,” he wrote. “Our staff has been very generous with their time in support of extracurricular clubs, activities and sports, providing meaningful experiences that benefit the students of West Chicago Community High School.”

Is this “work to rule”?

In 37 states, teachers’ unions are not allowed to call strikes—Illinois isn’t one of those. But in states like Maryland, where teachers are prohibited from striking, the unions will often institute what they call “work to rule,” meaning teachers report to their classroom at the first bell and leave the building at the last bell.

They don’t do anything they’re not specifically being paid to do. It’s a power play for the teachers’ union in states where unions don’t have much teeth in contract negotiations.

It is also true that kids don’t suffer as much in states where strikes aren’t allowed, either because of missed school days during a strike or because of the failure on the part of teachers to volunteer their time. Without any power to carry power plays all the way to a strike, work to rule in the 37 states that don’t allow teachers to go on strike just comes across as an idle threat.

But as a last resort, it has been known to get the job done. So writes a teacher in the Harford County Public Schools about a work-to-rule action in Maryland four years ago:

I am a teacher at Fallston High School, and I read in the newspaper about the recent work-to-rule action at Bel Air High School. Last Thursday afternoon, teachers at Fallston High School as well as other schools across the county decided to adopt a similar action. … Since [the teachers’ union] cannot bargain directly with the [county] council [which controls contracts in Maryland school districts], it is for all intents and purposes powerless. Our only legal option is work-to-rule. In any other profession, fulfilling your obligations exactly would be considered admirable. Nobody likes the idea of teachers doing it. Least of all the teachers themselves. …

Being a teacher is not something I do, it is what I am. I am asked to do many things as a teacher that I find silly or redundant. I do them all because that allows me to do the important work: explaining in some small way how the universe works to young people who need to know these things. I did not go into teaching to be wealthy, but I believe that I should have the reasonable expectation that if I could afford a loaf of bread five years ago, I should be able to afford the same loaf of bread today, and I can’t. I should not have to choose between helping someone who needs me and feeding my family.

“No one in the Teachers’ Association wanted to take this step,” The Wildcat Chronicle quoted Mr Larson as saying. “But, this was a step that we took because we believe that we need to start taking steps to communicate to the board the necessity for them to come to the table with an agreement that is acceptable and will meet the long term needs of the students in the district.”

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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