Progress Was Slow In Teacher Contract Talks

The Evergreen Park teachers' strike has ended after nine days.

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The Evergreen Park Federation of Teachers and D124 school board bargaining teams spent most of Wednesday’s nine-hour negotiation session quibbling over the introductory “what if” language in the union’s retirement package should changes be made to the state-run Teachers Retirement System.

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The Illinois General Assembly is poised to vote during next month’s fall veto session on whether the state should put its agreed upon contribution to the state's teachers pension fund back on local school districts. TRS maintains the state's unfunded pension liability is $44 billion.

Teachers and paraprofessionals from the district’s five public grammar schools say that what they are asking in salary compensation, health insurance and pension benefits “won’t put a dent in the fund balance.”

The district has argued that it is maintaining a $16 million fund balance—three times more the cash fund than required by the state—in case Illinois school districts will be required to assume payments into the TRS.

Illinois Federation of Teachers spokesman Dave Comerford said that issues over the “what if” language were not resolved until midnight last night. The Evergreen Park teachers union belongs to the IFT.

“We kept being told if we would work the language out it would get things moving,” Comerford said. “Finally after multiple discussions and further changes on the initial agreement we got it done at midnight.”

To further avoid possible long-term liability in the event that the teachers pension laws change, Comerford said the union bargaining team suggested a two-year contract to the school board instead of four years.

“If it’s only a two-year deal, then they only have to live with it less than a year-and-a-half if the laws change,” Comerford said. “Because the school board wants a long-term deal they want to lock in something now. It’s hard to write language for the unknown.”

The union submitted a 1.5-percent salary increase based on the Consumer Price Index for 2010, plus .6 percent added to teachers’ salary schedule per the STEP schedule.

Teachers put in for a 3.0-percent salary increase based on the 2011 CPI over his/her 2012-13 salary; and a 1-percent bonus not to be added to the salary in 2014-15.

The D124 school board countered with an offer that increased the floor on CPI in 2014-15 and 2015-16 from 1.5 percent to 1.percent.

The latest contract proposals are available on the Dist. 124 website.

Comerford said the union’s dispute with the school board was no longer economics. The biggest sticking point now is teacher makeup days for the strike.

The district has proposed which is now in its eighth day. The state requires that students attend school 176 days.

“The biggest sticking point now is makeup days,” Commerford said. “That’s becoming bigger than anything else. [The school board] is still holding to that position. If a child isn’t in the classroom with the regular teacher it’s not a day of education. Their priorities are all messed up if they’re punishing teachers and keeping kids out of the classroom.”

As reported by Patch earlier this week, the union announced a free student enrichment program being organized by striking teachers at Jacob's Well Community Church at a community forum.

The D124 school board issued a press release Wednesday afternoon anouncing that it did not sanction the enrichment program.

The school board also took IFT field director Dennen Pajeau to task for an interview that she gave to FOX-32 news. According to the release, Pajeau claimed that a school district memo was sent to union members informing them that striking employeers who volunteered at Jacob's Well would lose their health benefitis.

“The board assures the bargaining unit members and the Evergreen Park community that Ms. Pajeau’s statement is a gross misrepresentation of the district’s memo and that status of employee health insurance,” the district’s press release read.

D124 did state, however, that the district’s liability coverage would not extend to employees or students who became injured at Jacob’s Well during the enrichment program.

Employees’ health insurance coverage also would remain in effect during the strike.

“The board views blatant misrepresentations from the union leadership as purposely inflammatory and divisive. They only serve to make circumstances more difficult for us all,” the school district added.

Comerford said the negotiations were grueling. Much of the union team's time was spent snacking and pacing holes in the floor waiting for the federal mediator to deliver the school board's latest counteroffer, which is bargaining in another room.

"There's no sense of urgency," Comerford said. "With a  little move here and a little move there, we'll never get this settled."

Follow all of Evergreen Park Patch's coverage of the teachers strike by browsing through our topic page. 

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R Gibbons October 12, 2012 at 12:33 PM
Congratulations on completing a very difficult task! We need our well educated teachers!
EP 95 October 12, 2012 at 12:58 PM
After reading this article, I swear Comerford wrote it.
EP Lover October 12, 2012 at 12:59 PM
I commend the Board for their efforts during this grueling negotiation. I can only imagine how exhausted you are after working all day and participating in the negotiations well until the night. I appreciate their commitment to the tax payer interests and hope this deal helps to maintain and increase the quality of education our D124 students receive. Thank you very much for your efforts.
EP Lover October 12, 2012 at 01:02 PM
EP 95, I totally agree. Unfortunately, the Patch is not fair and balanced in their reporting.
Southside October 12, 2012 at 01:26 PM
And yet you both sit here and read it. And unfortunately you sit here and comment. Read something else if you don't like it.
Southside October 12, 2012 at 01:28 PM
You forgot to commend the teachers' negotiating team. They worked just as hard.
nooneyouknow October 12, 2012 at 01:37 PM
Does anyone have knowledge about the outcome regarding compensation for strike days?
EP Lover October 12, 2012 at 01:51 PM
Southside, again is the nastiness necessary or even helpful? Secondly, I would gladly read another news source but no other media source is providing as much information as the Patch. I appreciate the efforts of the Patch to keep the public informed but have been displeased with the bias (heavily pro-Union) that has accompanied their articles. Finally, I will thank whomever I feel is appropriate. Kudos to the Board for resolving this situation before any more time has elapsed. Your dedication, sacrifice and willingness to compromise is greatly appreciated
Southside October 12, 2012 at 01:57 PM
Read EP95 if you want nastiness and stupidity.
EP 95 October 12, 2012 at 02:30 PM
Southside you have some true anger issues to working out. We are all sorry that something in your life is bringing you down so low, but don't take it out on everyone else.
Dan Lambert (Editor) October 12, 2012 at 02:58 PM
Hi EP Lover, I am sorry you feel that way. I don't think we are operating with any bias on this issue. The fact is that the union has been more willing and available to comment on the progress of the talks and issues surrounding the strike. We would gladly talk with board members and the district's administration. One side probably does end up quoted more in our stories simply because they are the ones who are returning our calls.
Southside October 12, 2012 at 03:01 PM
EP95 you mistake anger for passion. I defend union brothers and sisters when they deserve it. And boy do the Evergreen Park teachers deserve it!!! They educate our kids and they educate us. Might not sink in with you, but they try.
EP Lover October 12, 2012 at 03:22 PM
Dan, I appreciate your response and you make a good point. Most objectionable in my opinion, was the title/headline of one of Lorraine's articles which said something to the effect of "EP 124 Board plays hardball with Union". There were also other instances where I felt like the Patch's articles (again, often by Lorraine) sensationalized the events and contributed to the overall community fervor.
EP 95 October 12, 2012 at 04:28 PM
Dan, look at the intro line to this article. Was Lorraine in that room? I'm sure the union was more willing to talk, as evidenced by this blog. But let's be fair to the board, they all had jobs to maintain while this was going on. One may have been out of town, one may had unavoidable meetings. You got your stories from the picket lines. I sent a letter to the board in support, which was forwarded by the superintendent to Lorraine. She called me to confirm I was the author, I returned her call, left a message that she could use any language from it for any article. Never saw it, the south town quoted it, however. Plus never once saw an interview by a random taxpayer or parent not supporting the strike. All photos were of teachers on the picket line, why not shoot one of an empty classroom? Many valid questions were raised here as to what was unfair about the offer, and they were simply not addressed. It's up to you guys to get the story, not let it come to you.
_ October 12, 2012 at 05:59 PM
EP Lover ~ Yes, applause to the Board, they never walked off the job! Were you on yesterday? You missed it, we had a WONDERFUL exchange of intelligent conversation and ideas without a certain bully. Ignore them, they are only here for attention.
Concerned October 12, 2012 at 07:51 PM
Also, there was no reporting on the by laws that govern what the board can say and under what conditions, and how they govern how the negootiations are carried out.
Southside October 12, 2012 at 08:53 PM
Applause for the EP teachers who stood up for themselves and their families to secure a better deal. What a lesson for all.
_ October 12, 2012 at 09:09 PM
Concerned ~ These are the Board's Policies from the District website: http://www.d124.org/BoardPolicy/section2.pdf
Concerned October 13, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Thanks... I' would have preferred the reporting in the patch to refer to these policies, like how they always use a mediator between the negotiating teams instead of inferring that was done because talks were breaking down.


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