Illinois teachers routinely threaten to abandon students to get their way at the bargaining table Print
News Releases - Education & Schools
Written by By Ben Velderman   
Tuesday, 06 December 2011 14:36
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - The threat of going on strike has become an accepted, and unfortunately profitable negotiation ploy for Illinois teachers unions.
And sometimes the teachers actually walk out, over seemingly minor issues.
That could very well happen tomorrow in the Nokomis, Illinois school district, where teachers are scheduled to go on strike if a last-minute compromise is not reached.
There have been efforts to curb this trend, but nobody knows how effective they will be.
The state’s new education reform law, SB 7, requires teacher unions and school boards to disclose their final, best offer once contract negotiations reach an impasse. It was hoped the new transparency measures would make teacher unions reluctant to divulge their wage and benefit demands, and more likely to quietly settle contract disputes without threats of striking.
But a recent spate of “intent to strike notices” filed by teacher unions in the Altamont, Nokomis, North Boone, and Lake Forest High School districts shows it may take more than public opinion to prevent unions from threatening to walk out, or possibly following through on their threats.
That was obvious last summer in the Illini Bluffs district, where the union delayed the start of the school year by nine days in order to protest the school board’s desire to ensure its classrooms were being staffed by drug-free educators.
The union thought this was too oppressive, and decided to hit the picket lines. Judging from recent intent to strike notices, unions are willing to threaten work stoppages over issues like the amount of teacher prep time, the length of the contract, and differing future estimates of the Consumer Price Index.
The mere threat of a strike works to the unions’ advantage, because it puts public pressure on the school board to give teachers what they want, regardless of whether the district can afford it.
These threats leave students hanging in the balance, wondering if their educations are going to be delayed over some adult labor disagreement. Parents are also left in limbo, wondering about child care if the teachers walk out.
The strike threats – and the occasion walkout – are ugly forms of extortion that should not be tolerated by Illinois state law. Teachers strikes are illegal in 38 states and it’s high time Illinois got on that list.
As we’ve repeated many times, children should have an absolute right to a public education uninterrupted by adult disputes. And taxpayers have a right to see the schools they fund operating on a timely basis, regardless of labor concerns.
Unionized teachers never ‘work without a contract’

Each teachers strike threat begins with the claim that the union is working without a contract. That’s usually a bunch of baloney.
In Illinois, teacher union contracts are “evergreen,” meaning that while a pact may have technically expired, the terms of the agreement stay in effect until a new deal is reached.
Many taxpayers don’t realize this, and buy into the unions’ propaganda that teachers are contract-less and vulnerable to random cuts in pay and benefits. In reality, working under the conditions of an “expired” contract might work to the union’s benefit, especially during an economic downturn.
All Illinois school districts are facing severe financial difficulties, and need to balance their budgets, either by trimming labor costs or cutting student services. A teachers union can delay making necessary financial concessions by dragging its feet during contract negotiations. This allows members to live off the fat of the most recent contract while school board members sweat.
Board members will only sweat so long before breaking down and giving the union what it wants, or at least most of its wish list. This may be bad for taxpayers and students, but it’s a way of life for union teachers in the Land of Lincoln.
Public schools exist for students, yet the unions feel no remorse about their habit of holding children hostage to get what they want at the bargaining table.
Is transparency enough?

Ben Schwarm, associate executive director of governmental relations for the Illinois
Association of School Boards, said the number of teacher unions that follow through on their strike threats has dropped in recent years. The Illini Bluffs strike has been the only one so far in 2011-12, and there were only two work stoppages during the 2010-11 school year.
But strike threats remain a common and effective tool for unions.
“Some believe the threat of strikes is harmful,” Schwarm told EAG. “It can put pressure on a school board that increases the contract settlement.”
Schwarm believes SB 7’s transparency rules are a good move and will “keep things honest” during negotiations.
Collin Hitt, senior director of government affairs for the Illinois Policy Institute, said there have been few work stoppages in the past because teacher unions tend to get what they want during negotiations.
Under SB 7, school boards have the right to declare an impasse in negotiations, which requires the final offers from both sides to be made public.
“Because of this, the public will see relatively few teacher strikes and school districts will get better deals,” Hitt told EAG.
Allowing taxpayers to know what is being negotiated during contract talks is a very good idea. For years the unions have managed to get their way at contract time largely due to citizen ignorance or apathy. Many people are hoping union leaders will feel a bit of embarrassment, and not be so demanding, if the public gets to see their self-serving and expensive wish lists.

On the other hand, some union leaders may feel no shame at all, and the new law may have little effect.
An ‘intent to strike’ roundup

The Nokomis district is bracing for a teachers strike on Dec. 1, unless a deal can be reached. The Nokomis Education Association, the local teachers union, wants its salary demands to be met, even though the district “expects to be $157,000 in the red this year,” reports the State Journal-Register.
“However, the teachers believe the school can afford their requests,” the paper reports.Neither side has offered the public details about demands or counter-offers.
In District 115, members of the Lake Forest Education Association recently voted 109-5 to authorize a teachers strike if a new contract cannot be reached by Dec. 7.
The union is upset that the school board estimates the Consumer Price Index will increase by 2 percent; the union believes the CPI will rise 2.8 percent. We assume the CPI is being used to determine the size of staff members’ raises.
The length of the contract also has the two sides at loggerheads.
In Unit 10, the Altamont Education Association filed an intent-to-strike notice in October. The union wants a new three-year contract “with modest raises,” while the school board is countering with a one-year deal containing a “soft freeze,” reports the Effingham Daily News.
AEA members, who are paying about 25 percent of their health insurance costs, are upset that insurance rates have gone up and eaten into their take-home pay. Welcome to the real world, folks.
AEA Secretary Jeni Aldrich complained that a new initiative giving every high school student a lap top computer will result in more work for teachers.
“It’s devastating that teachers are being asked to take on more responsibility,” she said.
In North Boone, the union and the board have sparred over salaries, health insurance costs and retirement contributions. The district’s website announced that a tentative agreement has been reached, but the details will only be revealed “after ratification by both parties.”
The Galesburg and Sullivan school districts recently agreed to new contracts with their teachers unions, thus side-stepping the unions’ threat to strike. The union representing teachers with the Zion-Benton Township High School district recently voted to strike, although the group has not filed an “intent to strike” notice with the state.
Contact Ben Velderman at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or (231) 733-4202