Updated: Champaign teachers union to take strike authorization vote
UPDATED 4:07 p.m. Thursday.
The union that represents teachers in the Champaign school district is planning to take a strike authorization vote.
The Champaign Federation of Teachers met for a bargaining session with the school district Wednesday, and a federal mediator joined them for the third time.
"After two hours of bargaining, a settlement was not reached," according to a news release from the union. They have another session scheduled for Oct. 15.
The school district issued a statement saying the school board was "surprised and disappointed" to hear of the vote while the district and union are still negotiating.
A strike authorization vote is when the union's negotiating team goes back to its membership to report on how negotiations are going, said Illinois Federation of Teachers Spokesman David Comerford.
The union members then give the team feedback and takes a vote to give the bargaining team authorization to call a strike if necessary, Comerford said. The vote has to do with the union's constitution and is different than the intent-to-strike vote the union would have to file with the state Educational Labor Relations Board at least 10 days before striking.
Comerford said a new state law has changed the timeline on which downstate teachers strike.
After the school district and union have been working with a federal mediator, either side can declare an impasse at any time. Both sides then must submit, within seven calendar days, their final offers to the Educational Labor Relations Board. The labor board must then post the offers on its website for two weeks.
"Then, a strike could happen," Comerford said.
The vote the Champaign Federation of Teachers has announced will give the bargaining team the authority to declare an impasse, he said.
“We are still hopeful we can reach a settlement,” said union President Cathy Mannen, in the release. “Last year we proposed, and the (school) board readily agreed with, to freeze the salary schedule, due to the uncertainties in the economy and the state’s budget. But inflation is not zero. Teachers should not have to have their salaries eroded by inflation, especially when we think the district has the money.”
The school district said in the last two bargaining sessions, it has "twice modified its salary proposals, and these offers are above a step increase and exceed the increase in the cost of living," the statement said. "(The union) has not responded to these proposals and instead has decided to ask its membership to authorize a strike."
The statement said the board believes continued collective bargaining will resolve the issues.
"We value and respect our faculty and staff and want to work with (the union) to come to a successful conclusion to these negotiations," it said. "We are also mindful that we need to be fiscally responsible, especially in light of state and federal funding cuts and uncertainty with pension costs."
The school board passed this year's budget Monday, which includes a $1.7 million surplus in its operating funds (which includes its educational fund that pays teacher salaries). The budget presentation at the board's meeting that night included a reminder that the surplus did not include any raise the teachers would receive as a result of contract negotiations.
The budget showed the school district began this school year with $25.6 million in reserves in its operating funds.
The school district has long maintained that the reserves will be needed should Illinois cut state funding, shift the responsibility of pension costs to the school district or other problems with federal funding.
"The district remains fully committed to continuing to engage in good-faith negotiations and to reach an agreement that benefits students, employees and taxpayers without disrupting the educational program," the school board's statement said.
The Champaign teachers participated in an informational picket earlier this month at the Mellon building, and at that time, released a timeline of the union's negotiations with the school district:
— Bargaining began April 4, when the school board asked the union to present a one-year proposal because of the uncertain economy.
— The union complied and "presented a very brief proposal at the second bargaining session" on April 17.
— The board responded April 25, "with what the federation found to be a rather lengthy proposal."
— Bargaining teams met again May 21 and June 25, "when the administration requested we attempt mediation."
— The board's first mediation session was Aug. 14, and its second was Sept. 12, two days after the picket.