Waukegan and Hinsdale.

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Photo: Waukegan Teachers Council

Those who follow my blog regularly know that I have been on it in reporting on two Chicago area school districts and their two union locals.

They are different in many ways.

They are similar in that they demonstrate what teachers across Illinois are facing.

There is more than a hammer on a Time Magazine cover coming down on teachers these days.

Hinsdale is a school district in the western suburbs of Chicago. The Hinsdale High School Teachers Association is affiliated with the Illinois Education Association and the National Education Association. It has a teaching staff of highly regarded professionals. The staff is appreciated by the community it serves.

While few were paying attention, a right-wing, ideologically driven Tea Party group was elected to the school board in a low turnout election. When contract bargaining began, all hell broke loose. The extremist board members suggested that then-CTU President Karen Lewis was somehow involved. They issued attacks on the IEA staff people who work for their union members. The board spent thousands of dollars of school district money on fancy mailers to parents’ homes. They lied about what was appearing on Facebook and threatened teachers’ free speech rights.

Once Hinsdale was a competitive district in terms of compensation. This ideologically driven board has created an atmosphere that has led many employees to seek jobs elsewhere.

Following community pressure and the removal of the extremists from the bargaining table, the contract was resolved. But those board members and their agenda remain alive and well in Hinsdale.

Waukegan is a working class town a hour north of Chicago. The Waukegan Teachers Council is affiliated with the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers. It has a staff of highly regarded professionals. The staff is appreciated by the community it serves.

The board of education appears not so much driven by ideology, but by an unreasonable desire to keep the district uncompetitive with surrounding districts when it comes to compensation.

When the teachers engaged in a legal job action and went on strike nearly three weeks ago, many hoped it would be settled quickly. But the board has acted with very little sense of the urgency of the situation.  They have left it to highly paid attorneys to do their bargaining for them.

While Waukegan runs a budget surplus, it has done this for years on the backs of teachers and other district employees. Many have been forced to seek employment elsewhere to earn enough money to support their families.

As one veteran Waukegan teacher told me, “Teachers can’t stay in Waukegan.”

Waukegan teachers need the support of all those who care about public education and collective bargaining. Not just from the two state teacher unions, but the entire labor movement.

And this from a teacher in Hinsdale:

Hi Fred!

Just a quick note to say thank you for the attention you brought to our crazy school board.

They’ve already doubled down and threatened to cut teaching positions at the very meeting they approved the contract. This after they tried to delay approving the contract. But even though this is the worst contract we’ve seen in a long time, with nothing but concessions to the board, somehow these crazy board members claim it is going to do what all the previous contracts never did – somehow bankrupt the district.

Mind you, all those previously unsustainable contracts led to a $50M+ surplus, a AAA bond rating, and absolutely no deficit spending for years, this one with a 0.7% raise to the base is going to ruin the district.

By golly, they now HAVE TO cut programs and teachers!!!! I just hope to God the community has finally caught on to these manipulative dishonest individuals and their extreme political agenda.

Thanks very much for helping to raise that awareness.

“Teachers can’t stay in Waukegan.”

Video and photos: Fred Klonsky

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Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery joins the Waukegan strike line.

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Representing the Skokie Organization of Retired Educators (S.O.R.E. IEA Retired), Harriet and I took a trip up to Waukegan where teachers have been on strike for three days.

Whether it is teachers in the Illinois Federation of Teachers or our Illinois Education Association, we don’t care.

Strike support is one of our group’s missions. And it looks to be a busy Fall.

Waukegan teachers have been out for three days over salary and health insurance.

Their district is running a $40 million surplus.

Waukegan is a working class community whose taxpayers expect their hard-earned money to be spent on their schools for their kids. Not sitting in a bank somewhere.

Lake County Federation of Teachers representatives were waiting to bargain through the weekend. Waukegan board members would not make themselves available until today.

Waukegan community support for the striking teachers is loud and visible.

A parent – teacher rally on Friday was a horn-honking extravaganza.

Another is planned this afternoon at 2PM.

Waukegan teachers still out.

Teachers are still out today in Waukegan.

No talks have taken place.

No dates for collective bargaining have been set.

As a result of Illinois school receiving the lowest state funding in the nation, issues of compensation and health care costs remain a perpetual bargaining obstacle.

It is one that the two sides in Waukegan have not yet been able to resolve.

Waukegan teachers currently do not make comparable salaries to teachers in neighboring districts.

Teachers have been working without a contract since school opened and have been engaged in the bargaining process for months.

“We don’t need to go through 73 pages of proposals,” said Mike McGue, President of the Lake County Federation of Teachers . “We like our contract the way it is, but teachers need a decent raise.”

Waukegan strike. 1,200 teachers. 14,000 students.

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– NBC Chicago

Teachers in far north suburban Waukegan on Thursday announced they were moving ahead with a strike. All Waukegan Community Unit School District #60 were closed, giving nearly 17,000 students the day off.

“Seven o’clock in the morning we will be on strike. We will strike all of the 25 or so campuses in Waukegan with picketers at each,” Lake County Federation of Teachers president Mike McGue said on Wednesday evening.

The union and District 60 have been negotiating for months, to no avail. The sticking points include teacher salary, health insurance contributions and length of time spent in the classroom.

“Very frustrated, very upset, they want to be with the kids, but we intend that no day of school is missed by the kids,” McGue said.
Union officials said Waukegan East High will serve as the strike headquarters for more than 1,200 picketing teachers.

The Waukegan Park District will offer childcare from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday for $30 a day. The Boys and Girls Club and Waukegan Public Library are also offering programming for members. Parents can contact those organizations for further information.

Throughout negotiations, district officials remained optimistic an agreement would be reached in time to avoid the walk-off.
In a Thursday morning statement posted to the district website, Supt. Donaldo R. Batiste said school board members were committed to reaching a resolution that “benefits both parties, while still maintaining long-term financial stability for the educational programs of the District.”

 

Highland teachers end historic strike.

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Highland teacher and mother Teryn Hoppes and her son Logan attend a prayer vigil in Higland’s downtown square before voting on a new contract.

Thursday Highland union members voted to end their week-long historic strike, the first in the district’s history.

After voting down a contract offer several days ago, members voted 150-2 to accept a contract recommend by their bargaining team.

News-Democrat:

HIGHLAND — Students will return to Highland classrooms Friday after a six-day teachers’ strike was settled Thursday.

“The Highland Education Association would like to announce that there will be school in Highland tomorrow,” HEA President ShiAnne Shively said about 5:30 p.m. Thursday on the steps of the Highland Masonic Temple, which has served as the union’s strike headquarters.

The HEA ratified the three-year agreement by a 150-2 vote, ending the six-day teachers strike, which started Sept 11. It was the first teacher strike in the history of the Highland school district.

The school board is expected to approve the accord and a $24 million budget at its regularly scheduled meeting on Monday.

All of the district’s regularly scheduled extracurricular events, including Friday night’s varsity football game at Jerseyville, will be played.

Under terms of the agreement, the district will pay an additional $555,850 over the three-year contract, Superintendent Mike Sutton said.

Highland teachers have been working without a contract since Aug. 31.

Sutton issued a statement at the district’s Administration Center shortly after the HEA vote.

“I am relieved the kids are going back to school,” he said. “This has been a very challenging 14 days for everyone involved.”

Sutton said the agreement will result in a 4.3 percent pay increase being awarded to teachers, while:

* maintaining their steps in the salary schedule for the next three years;

* maintaining their current family insurance benefits. The district had been looking to cap its annual family health insurance contribution from $8,400 to $5,500; and

* maintaining the retirement language included in the old contract.

 

The Highland teachers strike. A great editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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– St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Striking teachers in Highland aren’t making a lot of friends. Kids suffer when teachers aren’t in the classroom, and parents must scramble to make arrangements for child care for younger students. The Fightin’ Highland Bulldogs, one of the top-ranked small-school football teams in Illinois, already has had to forfeit one game and may have to forfeit again Friday night.

For all of that, the stand taken by the union members of the Highland Education Association is understandable. We are in an era that has seen corporate and financial interests wage war on public employees. In saying “no” on Sunday to the contract proposed by a federal mediator, the teachers took an old-school stance, asserting their rights to bargain for the contract and terms they want.

Illinois is among 11 states that allow public employees to strike, something that most unions, both public and private, are afraid to do these days. Even the states that allow public employee strikes impose limits on them. The most common is a ban on police and firefighter strikes, with the legitimate argument that their absence poses an immediate threat to public safety.

Not so for other public workers — such as teachers and transit workers. The reason for outlawing their strikes is because their walkouts pose an economic threat.
That is exactly the point. The only clout the workers have is to impose hardships on their employers by grinding their operations to a halt.

The war against public-sector employees has been remarkably successful. Strikes today are almost unheard of. Public policy experts say public opinion and low tolerance are the main reasons employees won’t strike. Legislatures in most states are dominated by corporate money, and are openly hostile to unions, both public-sector and private.

In the private sector these days, replacement workers and lockouts are routinely used to thwart the impact of strikers. Public employees are harder to replace, and lockouts would have the wrong effect. But the threat is intimidating.

And then there’s the economic climate. Strikes are harder to pull off when so many people are desperate for work. Solidarity isn’t what it used to be.

Since the Great Recession, corporate interests and their minions among Republican governors and lawmakers have portrayed public employees as greedy and unprincipled, saying they should accept cuts and lowered benefits as part of a shared sacrifice to deal with the nation’s problems.

It’s the worst sort of hypocrisy. Corporate interests have not shared the sacrifices. But many public employees have bowed to the pressure, making repeated concessions. Prime example: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker‘s successful effort in 2011 to take away most collective bargaining rights for public workers.

Even in a state with a Democratic governor, like Missouri, budgets have been balanced by slashing public-sector jobs, outsourcing work to private firms. Pay and benefits have been reduced or frozen. The value of public workers has been mocked.

The effort to cut public employees’ pensions is part of the war. Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan, Republican chairman of the U.S. House Budget Committee, has sought to cut pensions and pay for federal employees. And the Illinois Legislature, after years of failing to properly fund the state’s pension systems, finally succeeded in cutting pension benefits.

To be sure, some public pensions were excessive — particularly those for Illinois lawmakers. But the average Illinois public employee pension is less than $25,000 a year. Illinois raised its income taxes in 2011, so everyone got to share the pain. Which is as it should be.

The Highland strike is but a small part of this large and disturbing economic trend. But the 175 union teachers at least are fighting for what was promised them when they agreed to their last contract — a one-step increase in the salary schedule that would cost the district $270,000 a year. A community that values the work of the professionals who educate its children should find a way to keep its promises.

Highland teachers reject settlement. They’re still on strike.

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Teachers discuss the contract offer in Highland, Illinois. And then they reject it.

“It’s a respect issue,” said Highland Education Association President ShiAnne Shively.

Shively came out of a meeting of teachers and told the press that they had voted to reject the contract proposed settlement. It followed the announcement yesterday that the board, union negotiators and mediator had reached an agreement.

But the agreement still kept teachers frozen at step and lane, although the board had raised the one-time stipend payment from $500 to $750.

The members said no.

I always say that “no” is the most important word when it comes to bargaining. Once we say yes, the deal is done and nothing more can be gained. No means you get to come back and bargain again the next day.

In Highland, Illinois the union, board and mediator will be back bargaining at the table.

HIGHLAND — Highland teachers voted 140-20 Sunday to reject the latest contract offer, meaning the two-day-old strike will continue.

The tentative agreement recommended by the federal mediator included a $750 one-time stipend, but did not include a “step-credit” that equals a 1.9 percent pay increase.

“Our members deserve to have credit for their year of service,” union President ShiAnne Shively said.

There were no changes to health insurance or pension benefits.

“The union leadership took their direction from the membership,” Shively said when asked whether the union leadership recommended the proposal.

The union would return to the bargaining table at the earliest availability of the mediator.

“We want the kids to be in the classroom. We want to be in the classroom,” Shively said.

In an email message sent to parents in the district, Superintendent Mike Sutton said there will be no school Monday, and added the strike will continue until an agreement is reached.

“We will continue to do what we can to resolve these issues,” he said. “We are sorry for the inconvenience on all of our stakeholders. I will continue to send updates as information becomes available.”

Sutton said he was surprised the deal didn’t pass. “I’m very disappointed,” he said after the vote was announced at 5:30 p.m. Sunday.

Sutton will meet with school board members to determine “where we go from here.”

There were no new bargaining sessions scheduled as of Sunday night.

Shively said in a telephone interview Sunday evening, the members overwhelmingly objected the mediator’s proposal. One hundred sixty two Highland Education Association members were present at the meeting, and they rejected the proposal 140-20, with one member abstaining and one blank ballot being cast. She believes the vote sends a message a “clear” message from the members, who believe the district needs to give the teachers at least a step increase in their salary schedule.

“It’s a respect issue,” she said, and added teachers want to be compensated for teaching last year.

Letter to the editor. What if the Hinsdale board owned the Blackhawks.

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Letter to the Darien Patch.

By listening to the new board majority and its supporters you’d think that the teachers in District 86 have little or nothing to do with the district’s tradition of excellence. After all, Mr. Skoda talks about how overpaid the teachers are and how many applicants the district gets and Mr. Corcoran says that teachers should be so honored to work in such a prestigious school district that they should be paid below market rates.

I wonder how this logic would be viewed if applied to coach Joel Quenneville and the coaching staff of the Chicago Blackhawks.

I’m sure Quenneville and his staff are really dedicated and do a fine job that we all respect, but let’s not forget he has a slew of all-star players on the ice that he is fortunate to coach. It’s not like Hossa or Toews or Sharpe or Kane need coaching! Anyone could coach guys like that. It’s the players’ dedication and talents that win the Cup, not the coaches!

Besides, the performance of the Blackhawks has been rather flat of late. Quenneville and his staff only won the Stanley Cup two of the last five years. That’s only 40% – how can they justify paying such high salaries for coaches without showing continued improvement!

If Quenneville and his staff left, there would be tons of quality applicants for their jobs. They should be paid well below market rates as people would do their jobs for free given the storied history of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Sound ridiculous? Not to the new board majority when applied to the district’s award winning teachers or their consistently high performance.

Emily Polacek
Darien, IL