CHAMPAIGN – Teachers union members Wednesday resoundingly voted in favor of authorizing union leaders to call a strike if contract talks continue without progress.
But Illinois Federation of Teachers district representative Jon Nadler said that doesn't necessarily mean after 10 days pass, teachers will walk out.
Champaign Federation of Teachers members approved the action in a 452-10 vote at Centennial High School on Wednesday.
"We don't have to take another vote to strike, but we're not planning a strike in 10 days," Nadler said. "We're going to mediate. We want to settle. But if we don't, we're prepared to strike."
Beth Shepperd, assistant superintendent for human relations, said the administration negotiating team is ready to tackle issues that have stalled settlement since talks began. The teachers contract expired June 30.
"All our energy continues to be focused on settling the contract," Shepperd said. "We have a tentative date next week with the mediator and we're trying to make sure that date works for everyone. All our energy is focused on that meeting."
Nadler said the union represents about 800 teachers and more than 700 of them are members.
"To avoid a strike, the administration has to address economic issues and what it will take to address the 6 percent cap," Nadler said. "We're close on some language items and far apart on others."
The state threw a complication into contract negotiations for all districts earlier this year when it made changes in Teacher Retirement System rules that include effectively capping last-year salary raises at 6 percent, down from 20 percent, by making districts pay penalties if they pay more than that.
CFT President Greg Novak said he's encouraged by the overwhelming vote in favor of authorizing strike action and by the number of people who turned out.
"It shows the concerns teachers have," Novak said.
"This can be settled," he said. "None of the obstacles are insurmountable."
Chris Schultz, who teaches at Central High School, said he's worried about the slow pace of negotiations.
"I'm concerned that the administration isn't moving forward," Schultz said. "I was hoping they would treat us like they're concerned and like they value us. I don't think they're serious,and I don't think they think we're serious. This vote gives them a chance to make a decision."
The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act says educational employees can strike after mediation has been used without success and at least 10 days have elapsed since an intent-to-strike notice has been given to the district by the union representative.