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Strike looms Oct. 16 at Mendota

Grade school board, union meet again Tuesday, Oct. 15

MENDOTA — Mendota Education Association grade school teachers began Thursday night by holding a rally with 112 members in front of Northbrook School to support the teachers in their negotiations.

And by the end of the session, the Mendota teachers’ union said it would file its second “charge” of unfair labor practice with the Illinois Labor Relations Board “for regressive bargaining,” according to a press release from Brandon Scheppers, MEA co-president.

The two parties have planned another meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 15, and the union’s intent-to-strike date of Thursday, Oct. 16 remains in place.

The teachers offered to meet Monday, but neither the school board president nor another board member on the negotiating team could meet. The school board president said neither side made proposals to meet this weekend.

“Mendota Elementary Teachers want to remain in the classroom and will continue to bargain in good faith with the board,” the MEA stated.

The MEA says it sent its proposal that yielded a more-than “$40,000 savings” for the district in terms of Teachers Retirement System contributions, and then the board quickly came back with two proposals, one which “completely eliminates family insurance.”

The union says the unfair-labor-practices complaint stems from the board’s two-part proposal offering TRS contributions at the same amount as in an Oct. 1 proposal (and not taking into account a proposal from the teachers minutes earlier) and also eliminating district contributions to health insurance for teachers’ union members’ family members. The union alleges that the board came back with a counter offer to the teachers that did not take into account the teachers’ proposal that had just been handed to them.

“A new proposal for eliminating a significant benefit such as family insurance cannot be proposed in good faith in the last stages of bargaining,” the MEA said.

However, board president Pappas said one of the proposals from the board Wednesday night actually offered the option for a teacher to decline health insurance if not needed and to decline family insurance if not needed.

“It doesn’t eliminate family insurance at all,” said Pappas, an insurance adjuster by trade. “It’s one offer. It’s got two different components in the package. We understand that not all members want or need health insurance.”

Pappas said he was working Friday morning on a “news release.” Throughout negotiations, the school board proposals and statements have been posted on the Mendota Elementary District 289 website.

The district currently pays 90% of teachers’ union members’ single insurance. He said the board offered teachers an option if they did not want family insurance, to receive district contributions toward their Teachers Retirement System payments of 6% the first year of the contract, 6.75% in the second year and 7% in the third year.

However, during the three-year contract, a teacher could not start out without family insurance or no insurance from the board and then decide to get family insurance and still receive the larger TRS contributions from the district. The district is offering to pay at least 3% of TRS payments for all teachers in the union.

District taxpayers and teachers pay only 9% of the costs that go into each teachers’ retirement. Pappas has said throughout the negotiations that the cost of insurance dwarfs the district and teachers’ shares of TRS costs.

Earlier this month, Pappas was quoted in the NewsTribune interview saying that the board wanted to continue to pay 85% of family insurance. The union membership last week indicated it would love to accept that, and, according to both the board and union, that quote took awhile to clarify Thursday night. Pappas said the board has not offered to continue at that 85% level for family insurance and wants the teachers to pay a little bit more toward that cost.

As for family insurance, the district currently pays 85% of MEA members’ family members’ insurance, and for this contract, the board continues to ask for teachers to pay 16% the first year, 17% the next and 18% the third year.

Those payment levels, of course, would only be for the life of the three-year contract.

The board, union and federal mediator spent the first couple of hours of the negotiation session Thursday working to “clarify” financial issues, numbers of teachers that would be involved in the contract and a the verbal statement attributed to board president Sean Pappas for the Oct. 2 edition of the NewsTribune.

The MEA press release states:

“After nearly four hours of back and forth, the association was finally able to send our proposal, resulting in over a $40,000 savings for the district in regards to TRS contributions. Within minutes of sending our proposal, the mediator asked if we would be willing to wait an additional 10 minutes for a board counter. The mediator returned moments later with what the Association believes is a previously prepared offer that the board has been sitting on.

“This newest board proposal offers two compensation/language packages, one which reiterates the Board’s Oct. 1 proposal and the second which completely eliminates family insurance,” according to the MEA. “The second package also offers TRS amounts in the identical rates that the association proposed at the 10/1/19 bargaining session. Seeing as these TRS amounts are different than what we proposed just 10 minutes before, the association once again questions whether this proposal was created prior to our mediation session tonight.”

The press release from Scheppers and the MEA continued:

“A new proposal for eliminating a significant benefit such as family insurance cannot be proposed in good faith in the last stages of bargaining,” the MEA said. “How does this district intend to make itself appealing to new hires by eliminating benefits? How does the district expect to retain quality teachers by eliminating family health insurance? How can this district force teachers to choose between a reasonable retirement for themselves and insurance for their families?”

When negotiations began Thursday evening, the association made an attempt to clarify various financial issues with the mediator, Scheppers said.

“Contrary to an agreement reached in the previous bargaining session on 10/1/19 between bargaining members Rachel Sabin and Jordan Zoelzer and board members Sean Pappas and Theresa Komitas, the board continued to use incorrect numbers regarding MEA members and retiree placements on the salary schedule. It took more than three hours to get the board to agree upon using the previously agreed upon numbers. Those were three hours lost that could have been spent in productive bargaining, resulting in progress,” said Scheppers.

Through the mediator, the MEA also questioned additional proposals that “have been left out of the board’s media releases regarding the salary schedule. The board provided no response to the mediator concerning those issues,” the MEA stated.

Craig Sterrett can be reached at (815) 220-6935 or ntlocal@newstrib.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_NewsEditor.

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