Long bargaining session in Evergreen Park but no agreement
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY firstname.lastname@example.org October 9, 2012 3:01AM
Mariellen Newquist, left, and Jennifer Knight hug during a rally for their teachers union at Central Junior High School in Evergreen Park, IL on Monday September 11, 2012. Teachers in AFT Local 143 union held the rally in advance of next talks with their school district. A potential strike is looming in Evergreen Park. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 9, 2012 3:02AM
Another lengthy negotiating session in Evergreen Park School District 124 and more disappointment.
The teachers strike marks its fifth day Tuesday after negotiators for the school board and the teachers union failed to accomplish much during a nine-hour meeting that adjourned at 12:30 a.m.
And the strike will last at least two more days because there won’t be another meeting until 4 p.m. Wednesday. Four board members are not available Tuesday due to work obligations, board president Kathy Rohan said.
Rohan said there was progress Monday on contract language, but “we’re disappointed that no agreement was reached” on a new contract. Teachers had been working without a new pact since July 1.
Illinois Federation of Teachers spokesman Dave Comerford said Monday’s meeting never got into financial issues such as pay and benefits.
Rohan said the board made a salary offer to the union during Sunday’s bargaining session, but the union has not responded. She did not detail the offer.
Deneen Pajeau, a field representative for the IFT, said the union has “made financial concessions” and wants to reach agreement on those issues as a package, while the board is trying to separate them out. She declined to elaborate.
The meeting at Central Junior High School, which involved a federal mediator, began about 3:30 p.m. and continued while a community forum hosted by the union, and including some members of its negotiating team, took place nearby from 6 to 7 p.m.
Comerford and a couple of union members were at the well-attended forum at American Legion Post 854 and rejoined the negotiations by 7:30 p.m. No board members or district officials were at the community meeting.
A few parents said they were disappointed that none of them showed up.
“If they care, they are not showing it,” Analia Gomez said. “The next (board) election should be real interesting. It’s always the same people (on the board). We have to start getting involved.”
Union co-president Mariellen Newquist said that if a tentative agreement is not reached by Thursday, the union has arranged with Jacob’s Well Church Community’s Kids Club to provide daily educational activities for District 124 students free of charge, with staffing by striking teachers. Parents would have to register their children for morning or afternoon sessions, with up to 50 students able to be accommodated at each session.
At Monday evening’s forum, the three union representatives answered questions and provided information on the issues in the strike. With only union representatives present, many questions were left unanswered.
The union officials were asked what the plan was if strike lasts two or three weeks. Comerford said there are options to rearranging the school year to make up lost school days, but that the focus now should be on settling the dispute and getting children back in school.
Some parents wanted to know at what point would each side agree to compromise and settle for less than they wanted. Speech pathologist Tony Demma, a member of the union bargaining team, said there has been give and take, and the union feels it has made many concessions.
“When we are looking at the funds and financial security of the district, we feel that we have not asked for what taxpayers can’t pay, and I think we continue to make concessions every time we are at the negotiating table,” Demma said. “It does take two sides to come to an agreement and from our standpoint, we are going to continue to do our best to try and get children back into school.”
Monday’s meeting was the fifth bargaining session since the strike began last Tuesday. A mediator has been present during the last four, including a 91/2-hour one from Friday evening to 3:30 a.m. Saturday and a six-hour session on Sunday.
Comerford said one of the key issues, beyond pay and benefits, is the school board’s stance that there will be no makeup days for the strike, while teachers want to make up every day.
About 100 people gathered at the junior high before Monday’s session began. Teachers chanted, “We’re not going to take it anymore.”
“We feel as though we have made concessions in areas of retirement. We really hope the board recognizes those concessions and does everything it can to settle this. We want to be back in the classroom,” Newquist said.
John Dilley, who said his wife is a teacher in the district, said the contract dispute has left him “absolutely disgusted.”
“Every one of the board members should resign after this,” he said. “They started out by cutting (teachers’) benefits. The teachers had to negotiate to get back everything they took away.”
The strike has kept about 1,800 students from their classes in four elementary schools and the junior high. Details of each side’s proposals can be found at www.d124.org.
Contributing: Jessica Sabbah