Is strike on the horizon for Sycamore teachers working on day 164 of expired union contract?

‘The longer we go, the louder our questions are about why we’re working on an expired contract,’ said Jake Brens, Sycamore Middle School language arts teacher and union spokesperson

SYCAMORE – Hundreds of educators gathered in front of the Sycamore school board Tuesday to protest working 164 days on an expired union contract.

That could mean a strike or a walk-out next, said Jake Brens, Sycamore Middle School language arts teacher and union spokesperson. He said the union doesn’t think it’s gotten to that point yet.

“The longer we go, the louder our questions are about why we’re working on an expired contract,” Brens said.

Sycamore Superintendent Steve Wilder said he hopes it doesn’t come to a strike, but said the decision is out of the district’s hands.

“We hope that does not happen,” Wilder said. “Any strike or stopping of classroom instruction has a negative impact on students and families in our district.”

It’s the second time sycamore educators showed up in the hundreds to publicly confront district officials. The union held a vigil and school board sit-in Dec. 14.

Negotiations between the Sycamore Education Association which has 280 members and Sycamore School District 427 still are ongoing, and no agreement has yet been reached. The union’s previous contract expired 164 days ago on July 31, 2021, according to district documents. Both Brens and Ihm said that the union’s bargaining committee of six members continues to negotiate with the district, but declined to give details on details or requests made by educators.

The next meeting between the union and school district is scheduled for Thursday.

“We just want the security of a contract, the job security and benefits for our students and teachers,” said Lynnae Ihm, union president and special education teacher at West Elementary School.

Union members and district officials declined to reveal details about the negotiations, including what teachers are requesting under a new contract.

Wilder said bargaining for a contract is a confidential process.

“I know that a lot of people would like to know more details about what we’ve been discussing and why we have not yet agreed upon a contract,” Wilder said. “But I want everyone to know that we are both working toward the same goal: An agreement that is fair and reasonable that we reach as soon as possible.”

He said the district will honor the terms of the expired contract until a new one is reached.

Wilder extended gratitude to district staff.

“They have all been working really hard to support students and families this school year,” Wilder said. “Teachers, paraprofessionals, nurses, health staff, custodians, bus drivers, everybody – I want to stress our gratitude and thanks for all they do, especially during the difficulty of the pandemic.”

Matt Anderson, a librarian at Sycamore High School, said the union’s goal is to keep students in school throughout the lengthy negotiation process. He called for a fair contract as a way to encourage employee retention and recruitment for the district.

“We must continue to attract new and innovative talent who inspire and challenge, as well as retain our valued, high-quality teachers who know and nurture the traditions and culture we all know so well,” Anderson said. “We don’t want to lose more staff to other districts, and we want to keep our students in school. For the benefit of our community, please find a way to push this over the finish line.”