Champaign teachers union expresses interest to continue discussions

Champaign teachers union expresses interest to continue discussions

CHAMPAIGN – Teachers say lines of communication about a new contract are still open.

But members of the Champaign Federation of Teachers have scheduled a meeting for 4 p.m. Oct. 12 at Centennial High School to review progress in negotiations. A union press release says if "significant" progress isn't made by that time, the union will call for an intent-to-strike vote at that meeting.

"It's like watching glaciers move," said Jon Nadler, a regional representative for the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

"We're willing to keep going back until the 12th," said union President Greg Novak, adding that another bargaining session is scheduled for 4 p.m. Sept. 28.

The school district already has scheduled a 7 o'clock meeting that night to discuss a proposed March 21 referendum.

The 7 p.m. meeting would likely take key members of the administration team, like chief financial officer Gene Logas, away from the bargaining table, but Scott Anderson, president of the school board, said that shouldn't limit union discussions because Logas can go back and forth if necessary.

"The negotiators can meet as long as it takes," said Anderson, who's also a member of the negotiating team for the district. "I don't look at that (the referendum meeting) as a restriction."

He said he can't say anything about the substance of the talks but said he hopes the contract's resolved as soon as possible.

The board's other bargaining team member, former district administrator Arlene Blank, could not be reached Thursday.

Nadler said talks went on for more than four hours Wednesday hight.

"We didn't reach a single tentative agreement," he said. "There's a lot of talking but we're not making progress. We're not moving. The whole process is supposed to be about making tentative agreements."

If things don't change, union leaders will call for an intent-to-strike vote at the Oct. 12 meeting that gives officials 10 days notice.

When that expires, if talks are still at an impasse, teachers would meet again to take a strike vote, Nadler said.

He said salary and benefits are the biggest sticking points, and the state's action this spring, capping end-of-career salary increases for pensions, adds an extra layer of difficulty to the bargaining.

Formerly, teachers and administrators received 20 percent salary increases the last year they worked so their pensions would be higher – a benefit included in teachers' contracts. But the state has now essentially capped that end-of-career bump at 6 percent by assessing penalties on districts that exceed that amount.

"That's been the cause of a lot of discussion because we have to renegotiate the salary schedule," Nadler said.

He said informal discussions started last January, formal discussions started in August, and the union presented a formal proposal to the board Aug. 10.

"It took them time to get back to us," Nadler said. "The board has a lot going on right now, but the teachers feel they deserve attention."

The union represents about 800 Champaign teachers, who have been working without a contract since June 30, when it expired.

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