Union For Blue Ridge School District Files Intent To Strike Notice While Talks Continue
The union for teachers and other employees at the Blue Ridge school district in central Illinois has filed paperwork, announcing plans to go on strike October 28th. But the union president says talks on a new contract are making progress.
The ten-day intent-to-strike notice was filed with the Illinois Labor Relations Board on Thursday, the day after the latest bargaining session.
Blue Ridge Federation President Don Anton says the Wednesday evening session was the third with a federal mediator, who’s been keeping the two sides in separate rooms and acting as a go-between.
“So it takes some of the emotion and the heat of the moment out of the room, and it allows cooler heads to prevail,” said Anton of the process. “We’re talking facts. And I think that has been helpful.”
Both the union and school district report tentative agreements on paid retirement and teacher evaluations. Anton said those agreements clarified the school board’s responsibility to pay into the employee retirement system, and produced an agreement to keep data from student surveys out of teach evaluations.
In addition, Anton says that while the union pushed for a one-year contract, it’s now agreed in concept to the three-year length preferred by the school district.
Meanwhile, negotiations continue on salary and health insurance. Anton said salaries are one of the major issues where the Blue Ridge district and its employee union remain at odds.
“If you look at 17 different districts in the area, our starting salary’s dead last for teachers,” said Anton. “Our average teacher salary is, I think 47-thousand. That’s way behind the state average and it’s eight to ten thousand behind many districts in the area.”
Anton said there was movement by both sides on salaries at Wednesday’s bargaining session, but no agreement. He said the main disagreement on health insurance is over how much the school district should fund employees’ health savings accounts, meant to cover deductibles in their insurance plans.
The contract would cover 118 Blue Ridge District employees, including teachers, aides, custodians, cooks and secretaries. The Blue Ridge Community Unit School District #18 serves families in the Farmer City, Mansfield and Bellflower areas of DeWitt, Piatt and McLean Counties in central Illinois.
The next bargaining session is set for October 21st, a week before the October 28th strike date.
But Anton said that if needed, the Blue Ridge Federation is ready to meet with district negotiators at any time past the next session.
“No one wants a strike,” said Anton. “It’s just not good for anyone.”
And, according to WICS-TV, the Blue Ridge school district is ready to negotiate as well, in order to negotiate “a fair contract with the Union that hears their concerns and those of the community, while also weighing the financial well-being of the district for years to come.”