Students outside of Proviso Math and Science Academy in Forest Park, where District 209 central offices are housed. | File

Teachers at Proviso Township High School District 209 will vote later this month on whether or not to strike after months of tense contract negotiations between their union and Superintendent James Henderson have collapsed.

The Proviso Teachers Union (PTU), which D209 officials said represents nearly 300 teachers, social workers and school counselors in the district, declared its “intent to prepare for a work stoppage” in a statement posted Jan. 19 to the Proviso Teachers Care Facebook page, which district teachers utilize to communicate with community members. A member of the union’s negotiating team confirmed that the statement was, in fact, from the union.

“This decision was not taken lightly, but the Union has been left with no other choice because the Board team has not bargained in good faith,” the union explained.

In a subsequent statement posted to Facebook on Jan. 20, union officials said that Supt. Henderson had “refused to meet with Union leadership for the contractually required monthly meeting for over a year.  The last meeting took place on December 4, 2020.  The Board refuses to require him to attend.”

Union officials added that they sent a request to begin the current negotiations to Henderson on March 10, 2021, but that he “did not respond in a timely fashion and because of this the parties did not begin meeting until May.”

Since then, 13 negotiating sessions have taken place — six of them in the presence of a federal mediator, who was brought into the process in July 2021 in order to help both sides reach an agreement.

“Despite multiple bargaining sessions and much hard work, the District and the Union have not been able to reach an agreement on several key issues,” D209 board President Rodney Alexander said in a statement released on Jan. 19. “The Board is committed to continuing to negotiate with the PTU.”

Alexander said that the district has offered 5% salary increases for D209 teachers over two years, a 2-year contract “to provide stability and flexibility amid economic uncertainty” and a return to an eight-period school day at all D209 schools beginning in the 2022-23 school year.

But union members said that the negotiating team has not made any movement toward reaching a bargaining agreement since November — despite the union offering a range of opportunities to negotiate, including offering expedited negotiations, or speed bargaining sessions, over the summer, and formal counter proposals.

In his statement, Alexander said that D209 teachers are requesting a nearly 30% salary increase, which he said would not be “fiscally responsible or sustainable.” The board president added that teachers are also proposing to increase payments for “teacher-run extra-curricular activities” and freeze “teacher compensation for athletic coaching.”

During an interview on Thursday evening, PTU President Maggie Riley said that teachers are actually proposing a 5-year contract that includes a 5.7% pay raise for each year of the contract. She said the district is proposing a 2-year contract with no pay increase the first year and a 5% increase in the second year.

The district’s negotiating team comprises Henderson and the district’s attorney. No D209 board members have been part of the negotiations, Alexander said during an interview last year.

The teachers’ current contract expired on June 30, 2021. That expired contract, however, was actually an extension of an old contract that spans back to former D209 Superintendent Jesse Rodriguez’s tenure.

Both Alexander and union officials confirmed that there are three more mediation sessions scheduled for February and March. The next mediation session will take place on Feb. 9, Alexander said. Union officials said that a strike date has not yet been set, but that only one of the three future sessions “may actually occur before a work stoppage.” Riley said that union members will vote on whether or not to strike on Jan. 29.

“All along the Board team has delayed, stalled, and postponed negotiations,” union officials said. “It is the position of the Union team that the Board has refused to bargain in good faith and why we find ourselves in this position.”

Alexander said that as part of a formal public posting process under the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act (IELRB), the most recent offers and cost summaries from both D209 and the PTU will be posted on Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board’s website on Feb. 3. The IELRB’s website states that users have to have permission to access it. Alexander added that district officials will post ongoing updates on the bargaining process to D209’s website.

Henderson could not be immediately reached for comment on Thursday evening.

You can read the union’s statements in full here. You can read Alexander’s statement in full here