Strike votes and what they’ve brought

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By late October, teacher unions in 28 Illinois school districts had voted to approve strikes. In 17 of those districts, settlements had been reached, three of them following walkouts, according to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board.

Teachers in two districts, Hononegah in the far northern area of the state and Freeburg in the southwest, were walking picket lines at press time.

A Catalyst survey of 10 of the districts where contracts had been signed found a wide range of raises, from an annual average of about 1.6 percent to an annual average of about 8.25 percent—not counting increased pay for extra years of service or the compounding that comes with multi-year contracts.

The tentative agreement rejected by members of the Chicago Teachers Union called for raises of 4 percent for each of five years, offset in varying degrees by increases in employees’ contributions to health-care costs.

The raises in Gurnee’s Woodland District 50, which had a 13-day strike, were the highest reported, but they were targeted at teachers with five years’ experience or less, who make up 60 percent of the district’s faculty.

Gail Purkey, spokeswoman for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, says that raises typically are tied to the vitality of local property taxes, which are the main revenue source for Illinois school districts. “Everyone likes to look at another district and say, ‘Oh, look what they got’ or ‘Oh, look what they didn’t get.’ And that’s local property taxes,” she says.

Rising health care costs are a key issue statewide, she says. “In virtually every set of negotiations, health care costs are at the table. It’s becoming a bigger and bigger problem.”

Chicago Public Schools spending on health care rose from $192 million in 2001-02 to $223 million last school year, a 16-percent increase, according to a CPS spokesperson. The district paid 98 percent of both individual and family coverage. This year, costs are forecasted to rise another 15 percent.

As for contract length, Jerry Glaub, deputy director for communications at the Illinois Association of School Boards, notes that school boards try to get long ones but, given current economic constraints, they are having a hard time offering raises that are large enough to get their unions to accept long contracts.

In a 2001 association survey, only 29 percent of 500 districts reported contracts of more than three years. Glaub says that the current economy augurs against more long term agreements.