Sycamore teachers’ union files intent to strike amid stalled negotiations

Strike could go into effect as early as Feb. 14, but requires majority union vote first

About 200 members of the Sycamore Education Association attended the school board meeting held Tuesday, Jan. 11, at Sycamore High School. Negotiations between the Sycamore Education Association and Sycamore School District 427 are still ongoing, and no agreement has yet been reached. Their previous contract expired 164 days ago on July 31, 2021.

SYCAMORE – After working 189 days on an expired contract, the Sycamore teachers’ union has filed an intent to strike with the district, which could go into effect as early as Feb. 14, union officials said Saturday.

To move forward, however, the strike would need a majority vote by members of the Sycamore Education Association, which represents about 280 teachers, officials said.

Union spokesperson Jacob Brens, who teaches eighth-grade language arts at Sycamore Middle School, said Saturday the Sycamore Education Association filed its intent to strike Friday.

“This is simply the next step we are taking to ensure that we receive a fair contract,” Brens said.

He said he can’t comment on details related to what the next steps would be if enough union members voted to move forward with a strike.

In an email sent to the union members about 4:50 p.m. Friday, union president Lynnae Ihm laid out next steps as labor negotiations continue.

“It is a 10-day process,” Ihm wrote in the email, which the Daily Chronicle obtained Saturday. “Feb. 14 is the first day we could strike, but any decision to do so would require a quorum vote from SEA. Remember, negotiations continue to be an ongoing process and that intent-to-strike does not mean that we must strike.”

Brens said the union has another negotiations session scheduled with Sycamore School District 427 administration Thursday. The negotiations sessions since August have been mediated by a federal bargaining official from New York while movement has stalled between the two parties.

In an email statement to the Daily Chronicle Saturday night, Superintendent Steve Wilder said he received notice of the union’s intent to strike filing at 5 p.m. Friday. He said district administration met with the union’s negotiating team Thursday.

“We are disappointed that we had another negotiation session already scheduled when we received the notice of intent to strike,” Wilder said in his statement. “However, it has been our intent to continue negotiations until we reach an agreement, and it is our intention to continue the process despite the notice being filed.”

Wilder said the district doesn’t have control over a decision by the union to strike.

“Unfortunately, the shortage of substitute teachers and other staff has been well documented, especially since the start of the pandemic,” Wilder said. “Therefore, it is unlikely that the district will be able to stay open and support students if the teachers were to choose to strike. Any days missed may be added to the existing 2021-2022 calendar.”

Union spokespersons have previously said they’d prefer students remain in classrooms, and stalled labor contracts impact retention and recruitment for a dwindling labor force.

Negotiations have been at an impasse for almost nine months between the Sycamore teachers’ union and district administration. Stalled efforts remain over compensation and the duration of the next labor pact, according to records released Jan. 28. Wilder called the nine-month negotiation’s progress “incremental,” in his statement.

Brens declined comment on ongoing negotiations.

Open issues that still are being negotiated include salary, health insurance costs, and stipends for extra-curricular activities such as coaches and the contract’s duration, according to documents posted publicly to the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board. The documents also outline the competing salary offers made by both the Sycamore Education Association and the district. No resolution has been reached in the monthslong negotiations which began May 14, 2021, representatives for both parties have said.

In his statement Saturday, Wilder said compensation related to previous wage freezes remains the outstanding issues of ongoing labor talks.

Ongoing labor negotiations have spurred a vigil and several demonstrations at Sycamore school board meetings, with hundreds of Sycamore educators and community members showing up to protest the delayed action.

What’s on the table

Sycamore Community School District 427 is offering union members step increases – annual set pay bumps – that gradually decline each year, from 3.5% in the 2021-2022 school year to 2.5% in the 2025-2026 school year. The most recent offer and cost summary, published Jan. 26, 2022, from the Sycamore CUSD 427 school board, offers no additional extracurricular stipends and factor changes, and the total cost would be $2,564,384. Step increases are reduced by 0.25% each school year.

The union, however, wants a larger amount for the yearly increases, citing the Illinois State Board of Education School Report Card data, which shows the average salary for teachers in Illinois increased by 8.8% from 2016 to 2021.

According to the union, during those same five years, the average teacher in the Sycamore School District has decreased by 0.5%, when central administrative salaries rose by over 6%.

As a result, Sycamore union members want a 4.49% increase to salary for the 2021-2022 school year, a 4.85% increase to salary for the 2022-2023 school year and 4.58% increase to salary for the 2023-2024 school year.

In a response posted to the Sycamore school district’s website, district officials said administrators also took a pay cut in 2017 and 2018, and received annual salary increases in other years comparable to the amount teachers were given.

In Ihm’s email to union members Friday, she asked teachers and community members to attend Tuesday’s school board meeting, set for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Sycamore High School. She said the strike filing sends an important message to district leadership.

“This step speaks volumes to the administration that the SEA is prepared to strike if we do not have a fair contract,” Ihm, special education teacher at West Elementary School, wrote. “Please encourage community members to talk at the [school board] meeting about settling the contract before teachers strike.”

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