WAUKEGAN – After 13 hours of contract discussions, the teachers’ union in Waukegan Community Unit School District #60 decided to begin a strike for an undetermined period of time.
The main cause for the failure to reach a deal with administrators was differences in salary expectations.
The teachers’ union is asking for a three-year contract with a 9 percent increase in salary the first year, followed by two additional years of 7 percent salary increases each year.
The contract would set the district back about $12 million over three years.
Tony Ficarelli, chief negotiator for Waukegan School District, said the whole scene is unfortunate.
“Today we see picketers outside and the school is closed and as a consequence 17,000 students are out there and not being in class,” Ficarelli said.
Ficarelli said the district can’t afford to give into the “overreaching,” “unrealistic” and “disingenuous” demands made by the union.
“It’s a struggling school district in a struggling economic area,” he said. “Property values are plummeting to it makes it difficult for schools to receive revenue. [The district] has struggled in the past to get their budget in line, it’s still in deficit, but they’ve conquered a lot of those challenges through prudent planning.”
The school board has offered the teachers a two-year contract, with a built-in a 1.63-percent increase in salary the first year and a 1.5-percent increase the second year.
“The board has been reasonably practical and has tried to be fiscally prudent,” Ficarelli said. “It has a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers to make sure the expenditures on the school district meets the revenue coming in. They’re trying to give the teachers a raise, but within the confines of the revenue.”
The school boards’ contract would cost the district closer to $900,000 over two years.
Mike McGue is the president of the Lake County Federation of Teachers and is negotiating on the teachers’ behalf.
“We’re looking to get back to work,” he said. “I have no idea what [Ficarelli] means by ‘disingenuous.’ He might feel that they are outrageous, but anyone who’s been involved in collective bargaining knows that each side starts at a position and arrives in the middle.”
The teachers’ union also wants to reduce the school year by three school days.
“No matter how outrageous we may feel their offer is, at some point we know we’ll have to reach an agreement in the middle,” he said. “We realize that we are public employees paid by the taxpayers, but the last four years Waukegan teachers have taken substandard pay increases.”
“The district should be in the business of providing services to students,” McGue said. “And those services include paying teachers fair wages. Is a strike an inconvenience? Yes. But it’s also a lesson in civil disobedience and democracy.”
This week’s strike represents the first work stoppage for teachers in Waukegan since the 1980’s, and includes most of the 1,200 teachers employed by the district.
“The board is not asking for salary freezes,” Ficarelli said. “Our proposal is very, very fair.”