By Kevin Caufield

NewsTribune Reporter

OTTAWA - The Ottawa Township High School Education Association teachers union has filed an unfair labor practices lawsuit against the school board for its insistence on receiving a written contract proposal before meeting with the union.

"To use a football analogy, they broke a rule and we threw up the red flag," said OTHSEA president Glenn Weatherford.

The teachers union, a chapter of the Illinois Education Association-National Education Association, has been on strike over salary and insurance benefits since Sept. 30. The 1,500-student school's 113 teachers, who make an average salary of $68,138, have been negotiating with the board since March.

On Wednesday, the board's chairman and negotiator, George "Skip" Hupp stated the board would meet with the union "once the union shows it is serious in proposing terms that would end the strike."

However, by this morning, after the unfair labor practices charge had been filed with Illinois Education Labor Relations Board, Hupp issued another press release stating the board is requesting the mediator schedule a negotiation meeting for 2-6 p.m. Sunday at the high school to give the teachers "an opportunity to present a substantive proposal that would end the strike."

"It is apparent the demand by the board of education that the teachers provide it with a written proposal in advance of a negotiation session is an impediment to the union," Hupp stated. "Rather than stall negotiations because of the teacher's inability or unwillingness to share with the board the proposal it claims it has in hand, the board is requesting the mediator schedule a meeting."

Regardless of whether the strike continues, there will neither be classes for OTHS students Friday, because of a teachers' in-service scheduled areawide, nor Monday because of the observed Columbus Day holiday.

Charges in detail

Renee Strickland of the IELRB said Wednesday the unfair labor practices suit was received Tuesday and an investigation into the union's claim will be conducted.

After the initial investigation is complete, the IELRB will make a decision on whether to issue a complaint. If a complaint is filed, a hearing will be conducted where the board will make an opinion and order on the matter.

In this case, the teachers union is charging, according to the complaint, that the board is "making a regressive proposal" and "placing pre-conditions on meetings for negotiations."

The teachers union is asking IELRB to remedy the situation by:

 Employer cease and desist from engaging in unlawful conduct alleged herein;

 Employer bargain in good faith with the charging party;

 Employer post appropriate notices to all employees; and

 Any and all other remedied deemed just and proper by IELRB.

Negotiation details

Hupp included in Wednesday's press release more details of the sticking points of the bargaining sessions.

Hupp stated: "The quality and coverage of the health insurance program for OTHS has been recently raised as an issue in these negotiations. Among other representations is the representation that the current health insurance plan does not include a number of benefits often characterized as ‘wellness benefits.' This is true.

"What has generally not been stated is that commencing with negotiations for the 2006-2009 contract the Board of Education proposed modifications to the plan, including among other changes various wellness benefits including health screenings, adult preventative care, mammograms, well baby care, and additionally proposed implementing a Section 125 flexible spending plan for tax-preferred handling of medical expenses. Employee contributions in the form of premium equivalent payments were proposed as well. The Union put forth no proposal for health care plan changes. In the process of negotiating that contract, the proposed changes to the health plan were eliminated.

"In the contract currently being negotiated the Union made no proposal relative to health insurance, and through seven months of negotiation has made no proposal for plan design changes, benefit changes, or employee premium contributions. The Union made a proposal for premium contribution after the implementation of their strike. Currently, the Board's proposal to the Union requires no employee contribution for single coverage, but an employee contribution of 20 percent of the difference between the conventionally equivalent medical rate for family and single coverage. This contribution is fixed at $172.11 for plan year 2009-10, and shall not exceed $215.00 per month in insurance plan year 2010-2011, and shall not exceed $269.00 per month in insurance plan year 2011-12.

"As plan benefits became an issue, late in these negotiations, the Board unilaterally included in its proposal preventative care benefits to begin Jan. 1, 2010, to be paid by the Board at 100 percent to a $350.00 limit per covered participant per calendar year. Consequently for a family of four, this is potentially a $1,400.00 additional annual cost savings. Examples of the preventative care benefits include, but are not limited to, annual physical examinations, colorectal screenings, OBGYN examinations and/or PAP tests, PSA tests, immunizations, and well child care. One annual mammogram is already included in the plan and covered at 100 percent, therefore a mammogram would not be deducted from the $350.00 annual per participant limit."

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