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
or (231) 733-4202