Metro-East News

Another negotiating session set between District 189 and striking teachers

Mary Cathryn Ricker, executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, was in East St. Louis showing support for the striking teachers. With her is Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery. The strike began Oct. 1.
Mary Cathryn Ricker, executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, was in East St. Louis showing support for the striking teachers. With her is Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery. The strike began Oct. 1. csmith@bnd.com

East St. Louis School District officials announced Monday that another negotiating session with striking teachers will take place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday.

The announcement came moments after teachers had a rally outside district offices and the strike entered its third week. A location for the negotiating session was not announced.

School Superintendent Arthur Culver said district officials reached out to a federal mediator Monday morning to request a meeting. He said he is as interested as anyone in ending the strike, which reached its 13th day Monday.

Representatives of union Local 1220 said it is the district that has refused to budge. Dave Comerford, spokesman for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, said the district isn’t offering anything new.

“They keep saying ‘no,’ but they do not offer anything, no new ideas or alternatives. This says to me that it is not about the money. It’s about power. Mr. Culver keeps telling the teachers what they should do.”

The rally Monday morning was fueled with a lot of new energy, including parents, students and community leaders. They vowed together to strengthen their voices and resolve to be treated fairly by District 189. The picketers repeated their demand for a fair contract.

As striking teachers took to the picket lines Monday morning, they were joined by national and state union leaders and collectively, they denounced the district’s decision to do nothing while the districts 6,100 students remain out of school. There were plenty of parents, students and religious leaders, too. All said “enough is enough.” They want the children back in school. Some expressed concern for the students safety while walking the streets in droves with nothing to do. Others talked about the mischief that some might get into that could change the rest of their lives. They got on their knees, put their hands on each others back. Those that stood put their hands on the backs of folks that kneeled. They sang, “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross. There’s a precious fountain free to all a healing stream flows from Calvary’s mountain.”

Pastor Zachary Lee, of Mount Paran Missionary Baptist Church, said he is “highly upset” about the strike. He called on elected officials, local pastors and everybody to get involved to settle the strike.

Jerome Rogers, pastor of Shining Light Missionary Baptist Church and moderator of the New Salem Baptist District, said “The strike has gone on for three weeks. This is too long. If we need to get in and broker and help to mediate a local deal, we are willing to do this. These kids are our future,”

Mary Cathryn Ricker, executive vice president of American Federation of Teachers, said the union has come up with new ideas three times and presented them to the District 189 negotiating team while the district has not accepted any of the union’s ideas nor offered one of its own.

Ricker told reporters that she wants to sit down at the negotiating table with district officials to see how the district came up with it’s proposal, the tentative agreement, that the union unanimously voted down.

The sticking point for the negotiations is the salary schedule. Teachers in District 189 do not want to lose the current 11-step salary schedule they have. Arthur Culver, superintendent of District 189, said the district can not continue with the 11-step salary schedule because the district can no longer support it financially.

He and his negotiating team has offered a 21-step schedule that he says is fair and equitable. Culver said to continue with the 11-step schedule would be financially irresponsible and would further burden the district’s already heavily burdened taxpayers.

Ricker said the AFT has 1.6 million members and all of that support is with District 189 educators. To end the strike, Ricker said it is going to take both sides coming to the table and negotiating. To end the strike, Ricker said it takes sincere resolve from the district to sit at the negotiating table for as long as it takes and communicating their options.

Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers said the strike could end “today or tomorrow” if the district wants it to. “We need a willing partner. The teachers are committed to finding a fair contract. They want these kids in class. The district is saying we’re not talking and we’re not moving.”

Ricker said at the very least the teachers deserve respect from the district’s negotiating team. To sit back quietly and say nothing in regard to the union’s proposal is to be “obstinate,” Ricker said.

The strike is sending a two-fold message to the students in the district, she said.

First, they’re seeing their teachers come together for what they believe in. Second, they are watching their teachers get disrespected. She said the students are watching other adults who’re not bargaining faithfully. To the teachers, Ricker sent a message: “Thank you for standing together and teaching our students a lesson in solidarity. Thank you for standing up in unity and standing for what you believe in.”

Carolyn P. Smith: 618-239-2503

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