SYCAMORE – After nearly nine months of stalemate negotiations and threats of a strike looming, a tentative labor contract agreement has been reached between the Sycamore teachers’ union and district administration, officials announced Friday morning.
The announcement was made by a joint statement issued by both parties to the Daily Chronicle Friday. Sycamore Superintendent Steve Wilder said labor talks went until 9:45 p.m. Thursday.
“The Sycamore Board of Education and the Sycamore Education Association (SEA) tentatively agreed to a multi-year contract last night,” the statement reads. “The tentative agreement will be presented to the membership of the SEA, and then the Sycamore Board of Education for consideration.”
It’s been nearly nine months since both parties made their way to the bargaining table after beginning negotiations in May 2021. Since then, talks have been tense, with teachers working throughout the entire school year since July on an expired contract. The stalled negotiations have spurred the Sycamore Education Association to hold rallies, protest at Sycamore school board meetings and, a week ago, file an intent to strike.
Jake Brens, union spokesman and language arts teacher at Sycamore Middle School, said the tentative agreements means the teachers’ negotiation team feels their top priorities are being heard.
“The negotiation team believes this offer is a fair and reasonable contract that brings stability and clarity to the membership’s working conditions, salary, and health benefits for the near future,” Brens said.
It’s not known when the union will vote whether to ratify the proposed contract. District officials said Friday it could mean more stability for Sycamore.
“I think foremost right now, reaching a tentative agreement provides a sense of stability and certainty for the teachers, our students, their families, and our community,” said Superintendent Steve Wilder. “If the SEA ratifies the agreement, then the Board can approve it and we can look to the future.”
Under the terms of the strike filing, there was a 10-day window from filing the intent to the strike beginning, which also requires a majority vote by the union in order to begin. The strike could have occurred as early as Tuesday.
The latest round of negotiations between the district and union, mediated by a federal officials from New York, took place for several hours Thursday.
The result of those extended labor talks, which had for months been held up on disagreements related to salaries for teachers amid the district’s history of financial constraints and wage freezes, party spokesmen have said, appears to be a tentative resolution.
[ Sycamore teachers’ union files intent to strike amid stalled negotiations ]
“This has been a long and unprecedented road, and the SEA is hopeful that a resolution is at hand,” Brens said. “It was always our greatest desire to stay in the classroom throughout negotiations if at all possible, and that was achieved.”
The labor talks been at the center of Sycamore community news for weeks, and signs around neighborhoods, on businesses and residential areas have popped up over town, with messages such as “We support Sycamore teachers.”
A large crowd showed up to Tuesday’s Sycamore school board meeting, including what Brens said was nearly 200 members of the union hoping to make their voices heard before the Board of Education. Several others in the audience included parents, with some there to voice opinions on the statewide school mask mandate, which is being challenged at the state level.
[ Mask drama at Sycamore school board moves meeting to virtual format without public ]
The school board meeting was abruptly moved to a virtual format after Board President Jim Dombeck said that there were too many in the largely masked crowd who were not wearing face coverings to be able to continue the meetings safely. The board moved the meeting to Zoom which offered a livestream format, but no public comment portion.
“The SEA is profoundly grateful and humbled by all of the community support, from attending meetings, to social media engagement and so much more,” Brens said.
Details on the agreement aren’t yet known. The contract won’t be finalized until votes from both the union and the school board approve it.
This story was updated at 11:25 a.m. Friday, Feb. 11, 2022 with additional comment from Sycamore Education Association spokesman Jake Brens. An additional update occurred at 12:10 p.m. with comment from Superintendent Steve Wilder.