After a three-day teacher walkout, students at the West Chicago Elementary School District 33 returned to school Thursday. The 282 certified staff members chose to strike after a new contract could not be negotiated in time.
A message on the district’s website broke the news: “The Teachers’ Union is ending the strike and presenting the tentative agreement to its members later today,” the message said. “West Chicago students will be back in the regular classrooms on Thursday morning. Parents will be notified via the District’s established methods.”
The strike, triggered by a district budgetary shortage that required the district to cap its contribution to the employee healthcare plan and request that pay raises be frozen for one year, was precipitated by 17 months of failed contract negotiation.
This was the first strike in District 33 since the organization of the teachers union 52 years ago.
According to the Daily Herald, negotiations were being held about retirement benefits, class sizes, health insurance, salary and teacher appraisal methods. The two sides met with a federal mediator three times over the past week, only to find that they were too far apart to compromise.
There was even disagreement about what triggered the strike. The school board argues that the union rejected both their settlement offer and their suggestion to postpone the strike while talks are continuing. The union argues that the board walked out on the talks unannounced.
Mary Catherine Kosmach, chief negotiator for the union, said, “We teach students to respect and listen to one another. I know people can have their differences, but this was a lack of respect.”
While the details of the strike settlement are not known, it is clear that what the school board offered the teachers union on day 2 of the strike included a delay of any salary change for one year, with raises to continue as scheduled (the board pointed out that the average district teacher made $75,000 per year); an agreement of any delay in changing health care insurance coverage for 18 months and a promise that any future changes will affect both administrators and teachers equally; a proposal of a retirement bonus of $700 per year of service above any state pensions; and significant changes to the language regarding teacher evaluations and reduction of workforce.
School board spokesman Dave Barclay did point out on Monday that these points are not necessarily “on the table,” but are available to avoid a prolonged strike.
In September 2012, the Chicago Teachers Union struck for two weeks in protest of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposed changes to the school day length, the tying of student performance to teacher evaluations and privatizing schools. With as many as 6,000 teaching jobs on the line, the teachers rejected the notion that their evaluations should be based solely on student performance, arguing that a student may perform poorly for reasons outside the teacher’s control, such as family and environment.
The strike ended with Emanuel giving the union most of their demands.
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