It is anything but a surprise that faculty union members at the Proviso Township District 209 high schools voted nearly unanimously Monday to authorize a strike as early as Feb. 18 if there is not a breakthrough in long-stalled contract talks.
The union, which represents teachers, social workers and counselors, reported that 98% of its nearly 300 members approved a job action. That is a statement.
The previous contract expired last June. Negotiations have been sporadic and seemingly unproductive. The talks have been facilitated since July by a federal mediator. This is often an effective method of keeping two sides talking even during impasses. It is not working here.
The two sides, by their own admissions, are far apart. The union is looking for a five-year pact with annual pay hikes of 5.7 percent. Rodney Alexander, the school board president, has wrongly shorthanded that as a demand for a 30 percent hike. It’s 30 percent over five years.
The union says the district has proposed a two-year contract with no raise in year one and a five percent hike in the second year.
Our experience covering such negotiations in multiple towns over many years is that either of these proposals might be an acceptable opening bid by each side. That’s when negotiations start.
A five-year teacher contract in such a fluid moment in education seems too long to us. Same way such a lengthy contract for a school superintendent is notably too long. Three years, maybe four, would be reasonable.
And an annual hike near 6% — and we don’t know the steps and lanes nonsense in the fine print that can really boost wages — is way too high. We agree with Alexander that such an increase is not “sustainable” for taxpayers.
Find the middle. It’s your job.
That said, we’re not hopeful here. The relationship between teachers, the superintendent and this school board has become toxic. We are perplexed that the school board would designate James Henderson, the superintendent, as the lead negotiator. That reportedly there is not active board representation on the negotiating team is inexplicable. Henderson has done nothing to earn the trust of faculty and has done much to earn their enmity.
What has happened in this school district over the past two years is beyond disheartening. That we have come to the precipice of a teacher strike seems almost inevitable.