MALTA – Union faculty members at Kishwaukee College on Tuesday voted to suspend a strike planned for today and scheduled a vote next week on ratifying the tentative contract agreement negotiators met Monday.
The college’s attorney did not provide the union with an official contract before Tuesday’s union membership meeting, so members could not ratify it, said Matt Read, Kishwaukee College Education Association president.
The union will print copies for all 81 union members to review before moving forward with a vote, which will take place over 24 hours starting Tuesday, union leaders said.
“Everyone is remaining cautiously optimistic as we move forward,” Read said.
Union leaders maintain a tentative agreement reached last August contained language that differed from what was agreed upon during negotiations – although the college disputes that claim.
The union wants to make sure there’s no repeat of the August incident, said Kenzo Shibata, spokesman for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, which is representing Kishwaukee faculty during negotiations.
“All members will have will have time to review the contract,” Shibata said. “We wanted to avoid a strike by all means.”
The tentative agreement was made Monday, while the college was closed for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Negotiations were originally scheduled for this evening with a federal moderator, hours after the union’s plan for a strike would have canceled classes for 3,500 full- and part-time students.
Kishwaukee College Board of Trustees had planned to vote on the new contract at a special meeting at 8 a.m. Friday morning if it was ratified by union members.
But college leaders will reschedule that meeting for next week in light of the union’s schedule, college President Tom Choice said.
The special meeting was announced before union leaders publicized the ratification vote plans.
"There's no point in meeting until they ratify the contract," Choice said.
Faculty and administrators have been in contention over contract negotiations for 10 months, even before their previous contract expired in August.
Pay and benefits for Kishwaukee College faculty have been the driving force behind the new contract. Last year, faculty earned $57,354, about $14,000 less than the average community college faculty salary, according to the Illinois Community College Board.
The college’s last best offer, proposed last month, included an average 4.1 percent annual increase over four years, coupled with increasing employee contributions to single health coverage by $430 a year. Single-plus-one and family health coverage rates would decrease.
The college also had proposed reducing the number of years for which it provides health benefits for retirees from 10 years to between five and seven.