Hundreds of Joliet District 86 teachers and other certified staff packed a district board meeting Wednesday night to demand a fair contract only hours after voting to possibly authorize a strike.
The Local 604 branch of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, which represents about 800 certified staff in District 86, has been working without a contract for more than two months.
The two sides completed an hourslong negotiation session late Tuesday and while both sides said progress was made, there was still no resolution.
“There’s a ways to go,” said Nick Sakellariou, the district’s chief legal counsel, on Wednesday. “There was movement made yesterday.”
Still, the union members held a vote Wednesday afternoon on whether to authorize a strike, according to Therese Skwarczynski, the union president.
The complete results won’t likely be tallied until early next week.
The union is asking for higher wages and changes in language on a number of issues, such as involuntary teacher transfers within the district.
The certified staff are asking for higher wage increases over a three-year contract than the district is offering. The union is asking for a raise of 4.75% for the first year of the contract and raises of 4.5% for the second and third years, amounting to about $6.5 million in new spending over the life of the contract.
They’re also asking for retroactive pay for the time they’ve been working without a contract.
The district is offering raises of 2.5% for the first year and 2.75% for years two and three of the contract without retroactive pay, which totals about $3.7 million in additional spending.
Sakellariou said these were the numbers on the table as of Tuesday night’s bargaining session.
Sakellariou said the district’s offer included the money that was available for raises. He added that while the district has received more state funding, the use for that money is restricted.
Skwarczynski didn’t buy the argument, saying, “They have the money.”
The union also wants to see changes with other issues, such as what they described as the district’s practice of transferring certified staff “arbitrarily” within the district.
The teachers said this practice is disruptive, especially after having been in one school for multiple years.
Sakellariou said he didn’t “believe there’s been any problems” regarding teacher transfers.
Union members also argued they’ve seen “significantly” increased job demands, especially to oversee programs and special events outside of regular school hours, but haven’t seen comparable increases in compensation.
At Wednesday night’s board meeting, teachers such as Elizabeth Darlin described the increased demands as like having “never ending” to-do lists.
“It never seems like there’s a moment to take a breath and just enjoy the time I have with my students,” Darlin said.
While Sakellariou conceded that “demands change” in the teaching profession, he said he didn’t “know that they’re any extra demands” on teachers.
Sakellariou also said that over the past two years, the district has hired more than 50 new certified staff members to address various needs for interventionists, social workers, music, art and physical education positions, among others.
He said that these hires should help teachers and give them additional time throughout their day to attend to their work.
Still, union leadership and its members insisted that their demands were about much more than money.
Both sides said they were hopeful to come to a resolution.
“Throughout this entire process, we would definitely continue to be going to the table for negotiation,” Skwarczynski said.
There are two more negotiation sessions scheduled for this later this month between the two sides.