Unit Four Teachers: Avoiding a Strike

This article was written by Hana Hong and Mariah Schaefer.

What started off as a spark of protest rapidly blossomed into a full out rallying, as teachers across Champaign assembled to discuss a collective issue. A common discontent among the teacher’s union, also known as the Champaign Federation of Teachers, which represents about 825 teachers throughout the school district, rose and spiraled into a series of movements to take action. The primary objective on the agenda was apparent- to fight for better salaries and improved working conditions. Fortunately for students and parents, the possible teacher strike was able to be avoided. The Champaign Federation of Teachers and the Board of Education came to a tentative agreement during their last meeting on Monday, October 15th. Both sides agreed to the terms of the contract. However, the contract hasn’t officially been ratified until all the teachers vote on it, which will take place on Monday, October 22nd. The Board of Education will vote as well.

“Once those two steps are done, then it’s official; we’re ready to roll.”  Greg Stock, one of the vice presidents within the union, said.

A decisive meeting occurred on October 2, 2012 in the Aldridge Auditorium at Centennial High School, with over 500 teachers present to vote on whether or not the members of the Union would allow their six representatives to choose on initiating a strike. It would be initiated only if the issues didn’t get resolved until their last scheduled meeting with the Board of Education on October 24th. According to  Stock, the result looked to be almost unanimous. A show-of-hands vote indicated that the majority of teachers were willing to drop the textbooks and pick up the picket signs if it came to it.

Joanne Nielsen, the English Department Chair said, “[Salary] was the last point of the bargaining that hadn’t been resolved yet, which was frustrating because there had been a lot of bargaining over the past six months. The fact that we still didn’t see a salary schedule from the Board was something that I found rather problematic.” She also added, “The main issue that we looked at was not just about salary. This was only a one year contract, so we tried to send a clear message to the Board for when we go into negotiations for next year that we are standing together, that this is a solid union. [We were] hoping to come from a stronger place to bargain next year so that we didn’t lose collaboration time, and so that we didn’t lose some of the things that we’ve worked hard [on] to improve [the] students’ experience.”

The Champaign Federation of Teachers and the Board of Education had two more sessions set up — the 15th and 24th of October — so they could resolve the issue of a better teacher contract. The Union reached an agreement on Monday, October 15th. As stated before, if the issues hadn’t been resolved, the Union representatives could have decided on initiating an actual strike. But, according to Stock, “there’s a big, long, complicated state legal process that has to go into effect. The union has to give the district ten days notice that [the teachers] are going on strike. They have to publish stuff in the newspaper about what the issues are. So, [the strike] would have been a long way away from happening.”

If the strike did indeed occur, it could be noted that Unit 4’s students would be impacted as well. The last teacher strike was around 1987, and schools were closed down for a number of days. If the closing of schools did occur this school year, the gap would be treated like snow days, and the students would have had to make up the days missed. All athletics and extracurricular activities would also have come to a grinding halt until the issues were resolved.

Students are divided between whether or not they believed a strike should have even been considered a valid option by the teachers. Centennial Junior Vishal Patel stated, “I didn’t want to miss school because I didn’t want to get behind on my studies.” On the other hand, David Fischer, also a Junior at Centennial High School believed that, “if [the teachers] needed to, they should have pushed it to the strike.” In the end, students won’t see their teachers on the picket lines, for the dispute between the Union and Board was tentatively settled.