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Waukegan Teacher's Strike Continues

By aaroncynic in News on Oct 9, 2014 3:30PM

Photo credit: Kenzo Shibata

Waukegan teachers continued to picket the suburb's board of education offices with a rally that brought more than 1,000 supporters as their strike entered a fifth day. Teachers began their strike last week after negotiations with District 60 board members stalled. WGN reports classrooms remain closed for some 17,000 students and 1,200 teachers, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight.

Negotiations broke down again Tuesday and classes were cancelled on Wednesday. “The Waukegan Board of Education had 17-1/2 hours from the time they walked away from the bargaining table last night to make a counter proposal that shows a good faith effort at reaching an agreement with teachers,” Waukegan Teachers’ Council President Kathy Schwarz said in a statement. “Instead, they presented us a counter proposal that showed no movement.”

The issues at the center of the strike include pay raises and health benefits, along with the length of the school day and year, among other things. This is the fourth year teachers in District 60 began their school year without a contract. Union representatives also say that the board has been dismissive of the teachers. In an interview with the Lake County News-Sun, Mike McGue, President of the Lake County Federation of Teachers said:

We’ve taken subservient pay. We’ve lost a lot of teachers to other suburban districts. But more than that, there’s other things that we want to talk about. We’ve got an anti-bullying proposal. We have 10 pages in the contract involving teacher evaluations and they want to reduce it to one sentence. They keep talking about the school day. They want to extend the school day. We’re not opposed to that, but pay us for it.

They’ve cancelled [health] insurance. Some people need chemotherapy and they can’t get that. And that’s all punitive stuff. There’s no reason the district had to do that. We should be at the table negotiating this, not making excuses and not taking punitive actions.

The board says the district—despite a $37 million surplus—can’t afford raises for the teachers. The Chicago Tribune reports a press release from the board stated on Monday said the “fiscal solvency the Waukegan school system” was at stake:

“While the union has spent much time talking about a surplus, the 9 percent salary increase the teachers propose this coming year and the 7 percent increases they have asked for next year and the following year would bankrupt the district.”

According to In These Times, teacher salaries in Waukegan, especially at the high school level, are significantly lower than neighboring districts. Mayor Wayne Motley, who walked the picket line on Monday, told the Lake County News-Sun that his daughter, a kindergarten teacher in the district with a master’s degree, makes $41,000 a year, lower than the salary of a janitor recently hired by the city. “The problem is the teachers are not appreciated,” said Motley.

The union offered its latest proposal last night and the district is expected to offer a counter proposal today when the two sides meet.