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Carbondale teachers poised to strike, negotiations underway

Carbondale Southern Illinoisan

Wednesday, September 11, 2019  |  Article  |  By Kallie Cox and Brandi Courtois, News Editors

Education--Educators/Administrators , Education--Elementary and Secondary (36)

In the midst of negotiations, Carbondale teachers and District 95 faculty are prepared to strike if contract demands aren’t met.

In the midst of negotiations, Carbondale teachers and District 95 faculty are prepared to strike if contract demands aren’t met.

At the end of the school day, teachers and retired school faculty gathered outside of Carbondale Middle School to show support for the union during contract negotiations. 

The negotiating team for the Carbondale Education Association met with the District 95 School Board to discuss the renewal of the contracts on Monday, with a federal mediator present after school ended. 

According to the CEA, a federal mediator has been necessary for the past five contract negotiations.

The Carbondale Educational Support Professional Association has requested a new date for mediation. CESPA has been trying to reach an agreement with the board since August 2018.

If these negotiations fail, teachers and faculty of District 95 are prepared strike, according to a release from the Illinois Education Association.

The CEA consists of 136 teachers, social workers and other licensed professionals. CESPA has 111 members that are classroom aides, cooks, secretaries, maintenance workers, couriers, birth to three educators, behavior specialists and paraprofessionals, according to the release.

After these negotiations, if the demands of CEA and CESPA are not met, they can choose to go on strike within 14 days.

“The last thing we want to do is go on strike, but we are willing to do whatever it takes to put our students first,” Melissa Norman, CEA President, said in the release. 

Norman said the group has offered to meet the board halfway during negotiations, but the board is refusing to meet their requests.

“We want to be in our classrooms with our students, not out on the picket line,” Norman said. “We have been negotiating with the board for months, and it appears they are not interested in reaching a fair agreement as soon as possible.”

Teacher contracts for the previous year ended on Aug. 11, and the union said they have been trying to negotiate a new one since March.

Trish Briggs, a member of CEA, said the union first met with the board in June and negotiations were not going well.

“We want a fair contract, and we want language in there that assures our students are safe,” Briggs said. 

Jill Jackson, treasurer of the CEA, said the biggest goals of the negotiations are to come up with clauses that will keep kids safe, keep teachers safe and provide ways to deal with the behaviors that she and other educators encounter in the classroom. 

Among other contractual demands, the CEA is requesting supplies, reasonable cause for disciplinary actions, the ability to discipline unruly students, improvements in the sick leave bank, a solution to the substitute teacher shortage and 4% added on each cell of the 2018-2019 salary schedule.

The CEA also expressed their concerns about school safety, in the release.

“We are fighting for our students’ safety,” Norman said. “For the fifth time, we are asking the board to add language that will protect our students, educators and school staff members. The time to act is now. There have already been multiple violent incidents in our schools since the start of the new year.”

CESPA is requesting that teachers pay no more than $250 a month for health insurance, retirement benefits and that full time employees receive 20 days of paid sick leave.

The group also advocates that the amount of vacation and leave days remain the same, and for incremental raises to be structured into the contracts of full time employees in certain positions.

“We are already some of the lowest paid support staff in the area. Now the board is trying to cut our wages and take away a week, or more, of our sick leave,” Tricia Lueker, CESPA President, said in the release. “We take care of the district’s most vulnerable students, but are among the lowest paid. We need to be paid a living wage.”

Lueker said the worst part is the district has the money to meet the groups requests without raising taxes.

“We’re talking about less than a dollar more an hour in some cases,” Lueker said. “The district is literally nickel and diming us, and it’s incredibly disheartening.”

“We just want our tax money used,” Jackson said. “I like the sign down there that said ‘our tax money should not be sitting in a bank.’ We have 6 million dollars sitting in a bank, we need that for the kids and their education.”

Briggs said the board has demanded a lot from the group and given little in return.

“We are out here for the students,” Briggs said. “We love our children, we want the best for our children. District 95 can be a difficult place to work at times. With the shortage of teachers, we need a competitive pay to be able to keep the teachers here long term and to get good teachers to help teach our students.”

According to Briggs and Jackson, rallying for negotiations has become a yearly struggle. 

“This is getting to be an every year thing, so I’m afraid this may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” Jackson said.

Betsy Brown, a retired teacher who attended the rally, said she has had to rally for negotiations countless times, and that it is customary for the school board to drag their heels. 

“I’m just sad that it’s gotten to the point where I heard that they were not communicating at all at the beginning,” Brown said. “They were not really ready to bargain in good faith and it’s. I’m afraid with the current way things are going it appears that way.” 

The school board was unavailable for comment at this time but they plan to issue a statement to the public Wednesday morning.