Teachers working without contracts as school year begins

With the school year now underway, teachers in many metro-east school districts are working without contracts as negotiations continue between union leaders and school officials. At least one local district has filed an intent to strike notice with the state — East St. Louis District 189.

Teachers in Union Local 1220 in East St. Louis have alerted the Illinois Labor Relations Board, via a letter, of their plans to strike this year if they do not get a new contract that keeps their medical benefits the same, includes a pay increase and is a multi-year agreement.

Last week, a large number of protestors gathered at East St. Louis District 189’s board building to have their voices heard and to let the community know that they have not been able to get a contract agreement with the district as of yet. Their contract expired the day before school started in August 2014, according to union president Sharon Crockett.

Asked how much of an increase the union is looking for, Crockett said, “We have to see. We want what’s fair. We haven’t had an increase since 2011. But administrators were given bonuses and new people have been hired and they’re making six figures.

“We see new faces and some new names,” she said. “If enrollment is down, why is there a need to hire another principal (at East St. Louis Senior High) out of Chicago and bring him to East St. Louis when you already have principals down here. There are too many new people coming in and out.”

While Crockett says she and other union members are supportive of librarians because they are part of Local 1220, she said the district just brought a librarian to East St. Louis from Chicago. “We have certified librarians already in the district. Why go outside? The issue is the district’s hiring practices are not fair,” Crockett said.

The News-Democrat reached out to district officials to talk about the union’s intent to strike if there is no contract agreement reached, and Kelly Hawkins, the district’s public information officer, said the district cannot comment on pending negotiations. She said the district is currently negotiating a contract with the union.

Crockett said the group had a mediation meeting Thursday evening and were told to put together another proposal by Tuesday and bring it to a scheduled mediation meeting that day.

Crockett said union members, which consists of teachers, teacher’s aides, librarians, psychologists, social workers, clerks and speech therapists, have met with district officials a couple of times and have come away without the contract they want.

“The meetings have continued to be canceled. When the last meeting was canceled, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Crockett said.

Speaking about the reason why the union, which has about 400 members, is holding informational pickets at the board building, Crockett said the group “wants the district and the public to know that we are united.”

Harmony-Emge District 175

Teachers at Harmony-Emge District 175 in Belleville were passing out fliers with an informational picket as students reported to school last week because the union is beginning the year with an expired contract.

Both sides stressed their conversations are continuing, and there has been no call for arbitration. Superintendent Pam Leonard said they have met five or six times since June and have resolved most language issues.

“We are continuing to make progress; every time we meet, we make progress,” Leonard said.

Teachers’ representatives referred comment to Ray Roskos, the regional representative for the Illinois Federation of Teachers who is assisting with negotiations. Roskos also said they have worked through a number of language issues, but said there are still quite a few issues on the table.

“Most of the proposals that deal with finances are still up for negotiation,” he said. “We have only just started talking about money in the last two meetings, but we have got to start talking about money.”

Roskos said the 52 teachers at Harmony-Emge are continuing to work under the old contract. “We did informational picketing because we feel the parents have a right to know where we are in the process,” he said. “The parents were receptive to us just letting them know that we are professionals, and we will be in the classroom teaching their kids, but we are starting the school year without a contract.”

The most recent negotiation session took place on Tuesday.

While neither side has chosen to divulge specifics, Roskos said the negotiations went “as well as can be expected.”

“Both sides made movement,” he said. “We are still apart on several issues, but making slow progress.”

Harmony-Emge and East St. Louis aren’t the only districts still in negotiations with teachers and/or other school employees.

Other districts in negotiations

▪  Breese District 12 is continuing its negotiations with the 45 teachers represented by the Illinois Education Association. While the teachers are beginning the year out of contract, interim superintendent John Mullett said he believes everything is moving forward.

▪  Granite City District 9 is currently negotiating with its secretaries and craftsmen, but Superintendent Jim Greenwald doesn’t foresee any problems. Granite City’s craftsmen include carpenters, painters and other laborers who work full-time for the school district, which Greenwald says saves the district money in the long run by not having to hire contractors for many of their repair and renovation projects. The teachers’ union is not up for negotiation this year; a three-year contract was settled last summer and won’t be up until 2017.

▪  Mascoutah District 19 has no contract agreed to yet; teacher and district representatives were to meet Saturday. The new contract, when reached, would cover 340 employees; teachers, custodians, instructional and supervisory aides. “We’re still at the table, nowhere near the impasse,” said Superintendent Craig Fiegel.

Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at or 618-239-2507. Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503. News-Democrat reporter Mary Cooley contributed to this article.

Contracts reached with area teachers and other school workers:

▪  Belleville District 118 agreed to a three-year contract on Aug. 18. It affects 38 teachers and certified nurses, 84 paraprofessionals, 30 custodial maintenance workers and 11 building administrators. The contracts include about a 1.5 percent pay increase for each year.

▪  Belleville District 201 agreed to three separate contracts at its board meeting Aug. 17. The contracts cover about 290 certified teachers and 62 paraprofessionals. Superintendent Jeff Dosier said, “Teachers who lost steps in the years we had freezes were able to get two steps in the first year of the contract... the salary schedule has changed with those steps.”

▪  Cahokia District 187 has reached a three-year contract, which impacts about 250 teachers, 50 service workers, 25 secretaries, 15 transportation workers, and 20 administrative assistants. The contract has a step each year.

▪  Collinsville Unit 10 reached an agreement with the Collinsville Education Association, representing approximately 460 teachers. Superintendent Robert Green said they reached an agreement earlier this month, which was ratified by the school board this week. Teachers will receive a 0.5-percent raise plus step increases this year, and 0.75-percent raise next year. Teachers on the top step — the ones with the highest seniority — will receive a one-time stipend of $400. There are three other unions with which to negotiate once this is complete, he said; those negotiations have been on hold waiting for the teachers’ contract to wrap up.

▪  Pontiac William Holliday District 105 completed a new contract with teachers, aides and secretaries, and custodians before the end of the 2014-15 school year.

▪  Smithton District 130 agreed on a three-year contract with teachers, custodians and paraprofessionals. The average increase for teachers over three years is 1.89 percent annually. They move up a step this first year, but get no salary increase. The second year, they move up half a step and get a half-percent increase. Custodians and para professionals frozen at step will receive one-quarter percent increase in salary each year.

▪  Triad District 2 settled with the Triad Education Association last spring, with a 1.75 percent raise each year for two years. The contract affects 250 teachers. The district also has had to hire 14 new certified teachers this year, which Superintendent Leigh Lewis said is “a large number for us.” The majority of hires were due to a large number of retirements, but there have been at least four teachers added in an effort to lower class sizes, Lewis said.

▪  Venice District 1 settled with Illinois Federation of Teachers Local 965 this summer, offering 3 percent a year for three years to the 10 teachers. The district also has opened its own cafeteria; in the past, the small district was only allowed to serve food purchased from the Brooklyn district, not cook it themselves. “We now prepare our own food to ensure the quality,” said Superintendent Cullen Cullen. The two-employee kitchen staff is part of the SEIU union, and they negotiated their first contract this summer. They will receive the same as the teachers: 3 percent per year for three years, Cullen said. Janitors and secretaries’ unions will be negotiated soon; negotiating a first-time contract for the cafeteria took extra time to hammer out the language, Cullen said. Venice is estimating enrollment of 120 elementary students and 25 high-school students this year.

Information provided to News-Democrat reporters Elizabeth Donald and Mary Cooley.