Dozens of Joliet Public Schools District 86 teachers and certified staff members demonstrated Tuesday as negotiations continued on a new contract.
Officials from the Local 604 branch of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, which represents about 800 certified staff in District 86, said members could vote to authorize a strike Wednesday. Both sides were still negotiating Tuesday afternoon.
Their previous contract expired at the end of August and the union members have been working without a contract ever since. District 86 consists of more than 11,000 students attending 15 elementary schools, four junior high schools, an early childhood center and an alternative school.
The dozens of demonstrators stood in 18-degree weather outside the District 86 administration building. They held signs, encouraged drivers to honk and chanted “We teach, we care, be fair!”
Lisa Kreml, the union’s secretary, said members were demonstrating in hopes that the two sides could “come to a fair agreement that’s going to benefit the children, community and teachers of Joliet District 86.”
Union members said they’ve been arguing with the district about a number of issues, but mostly over pay.
For its part, District 86 published on its website its most recent offer to the union, detailing its average wage increases over the last five years. Those increases ranged from 3.25% to 3.5%, which, the district pointed out, averaged more than double the amount the cost of living increased. Still, the union members said that’s not enough.
Kreml said that the increased workload and schedule demands on teachers warrant better compensation. She said teachers spend “countless” hours on work, such as planning after school activities or entering grades on a holiday weekend, which amounts to unpaid labor.
In its published proposal, District 86 also argued it offers “excellent” comprehensive insurance benefits and that its salary plan is competitive with other elementary school districts. The district also said in the document that union members left an Oct. 7 bargaining session early.
Stacee DeBold, a District 86 teacher, and Kreml said that happened because the union representatives felt “disrespected” by the district’s lack of movement on its offer.
“It was because for the millionth time, what we got back after what we believed was a fair proposal, we got back status quo,” Kreml said.
Besides Tuesday’s meeting, the two sides also have a federal mediation session scheduled for Nov. 19. The two sides averaged two hours of negotiation a session, according to the district’s document.
Union members said they plan to keep up the pressure and will attend the District 86 Board of Inspectors meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at A.O. Marshall Elementary School, located at 319 Harwood St. in Joliet.
“All we want is a fair contract,” Kreml said. “That’s all we want.”