Unit 4 teachers to strike Oct. 31

By Vasanth Sridharan

The Champaign division of the Illinois Federation of Teachers decided to strike on Oct. 31 if a new contract is not negotiated by then, said Jon Nadler, field service director for the union.

The teachers’ contract for the Champaign Unit 4 school district expired July 1 but informal negotiations have been going on since February, Nadler said. Since July 1, the teachers have been working under the provisions of their old contract.

The two sides met yesterday with a federal mediator to try to settle the dispute, but they did not reach a resolution.

“I feel we have made progress, and we have another meeting (with the mediator) for next Tuesday,” said Beth Shepperd, Champaign Unit 4 school district assistant superintendent for human resources and community relations.

Both Shepperd and Nadler said they cannot disclose exactly what is being debated, but Nadler said one of the main points is salary. He said the district is “not moving on salary.”

Last Wednesday, the union gave its 10-day intent-to-strike notice. Under the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act, teacher unions have to file this to notify their districts that they could be going on strike. Then, the earliest a union can strike after giving this notice is ten days after the date it was filed. Since the law was passed in 1982, Nadler said using the 10-day notice is not out of the ordinary.

“Today, a lot of teachers’ unions call the intent-to-strike notice in May; it’s a negotiation strategy,” Nadler said.

If an agreement is not reached by Oct. 31 and the teachers go on strike, Nadler and Gail Purkey, spokesperson for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, said the schools would most likely close.

“It is always the goal of the teachers’ union to get back to the bargaining table, to work round the clock and get a settlement,” Purkey said. “No one wants to be in the classroom more than the teachers, so they will try to get this settled very quickly if it comes to that.”

Shepperd echoed that sentiment.

“We’re hoping we’ll be able to work together to settle this before (Oct. 31),” she said.

The last time the union was on strike in Champaign was in 1986. Nadler said that the strike lasted 12 days until the new contract was negotiated. The schools were closed for that period, he said.

The current contract was negotiated in 2002. During those negotiations, the union called an intent-to-strike notice, but both sides settled, averting a strike.

Nadler said one of the reasons the teachers are pushing hard on salary is that inflation has risen considerably this year. Another reason he cited was a new law passed this year by the Illinois State Legislature that reduced the pension a teacher can get from the state. A teacher’s pensions is determined by taking the highest salary the teacher earned for four consecutive years, averaging it and using a percentage of that amount based on age and years of experience, which becomes the yearly pension.

In the past, districts would give bonuses to teachers in their last year so they could get larger pensions. Since pensions are paid by the state, the teachers would get more money in retirement, and the districts would be able to save money on teachers’ salaries throughout their careers. The state capped this bonus at six percent with this year’s Illinois law that reduced the pension a teacher can receive from the state.