9/16/08

Chicago-area teachers go out on strike

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The District 158 teachers' union in far northwest suburban Huntley early Monday morning turned down what school board members call a 17.8 percent salary increase. A teachers' strike was made official during the middle of the night, after more than 40 hours of negotiations between the two sides over the weekend failed to produce a full contract deal. Classes for the near 8,200 District 158 students have been canceled today.

Board member Larry Snow said early Monday morning that the sides had reconvened their ongoing negotiations meeting at about 3:15 a.m., while teachers' union leaders had told them their final decision to strike today. A previous deadline to inform families of school cancelation by 6 p.m. Sunday had been pushed back twice, first to 9 p.m. Sunday and then to 5:30 a.m. today, to allow for extra time to negotiate.

"It's extremely disappointing of the [Huntley Education Association] leaders," Snow said.

Union co-president Julie Hunter said a federal mediator is scheduled to be brought in Tuesday night, but no further negotiation meetings have been set yet.

"We couldn't reach an agreement," Hunter said early Monday of the decision to strike. "At this point, that's all we have planned."

According to a press release sent by union leaders at 3:49 a.m., the school board "has forced us to call this strike."

"The Board has the resources to meet our reasonable proposals without increasing taxes or engaging in deficit spending," the news release said. "Though the school board had promised to come to the bargaining table this weekend, statements in the press from the Board of Education suggest the outcome was predetermined and the Board intended to force the teachers out of the classrooms and onto the picket lines. "

The union, however, said it has made significant movement on a fair and competitive teachers' contract in recent talks. Union leaders say they stand ready to meet any time to resolve the strike, the news release said.

On the other hand, the board says union leadership "has repeatedly declared they would not strike as long as the board continued to negotiate," a 4 a.m. news release said.

"Despite that fact, the HEA leadership did not keep their promise to the families and students of District 158, and instead declared a strike," the release continued.

The school board and teachers union had agreed to a three-year "halfway" compromise offering each on-schedule teacher more than a 5 percent raise every contract year. Those in the top-tier previously scheduled to get a 2-percent raise, would be bumped to get 4 percent the first year and 3.5 percent in years two and three.

Retirement contribution would also be considered in part of the raises, the board said, but a specific amount was not detailed. The 17.8 percent figure cited by school board members is for the life of the three-year contract proposal.

(cbs2chicago.com)

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