Wednesday, May 21, 2014 || By Michael Romain
Updated: 6:34 PM || 10:10 AM
A coalition of secretaries, clerks and instructional aids (IA’s) were out Tuesday morning floating around fliers that claimed District 89 Superintendent Dr. Michael Robey and management “want to make drastic cuts that will negatively impact our children and communities.”
The employees, who are part of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73, also passed out petitions throughout the District’s service area of Maywood, Broadview and Melrose Park seeking public support for their stance.
Today, District management, SEIU representatives and a bargaining committee comprising a representative group of IA’s, clerks and secretaries conducted the latest session in a series of contract negotiations that have taken place so far. Due to the ongoing nature of the mediation, there have been no details pulled directly from either side’s proposal. So far, the only information available to the public are the claims made by each party in the negotiations.
“The District is going to cut our hours, because they don’t want to give us health insurance,” said Yesenia Ramos, about a week before yesterday’s demonstration. Ramos is an IA at Melrose Park Elementary, which is also her alma mater. She sought the position after acquiring enough college credits to apply.
According to an important provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) implemented under President Barack Obama in 2010, local school districts are required to provide health insurance to employees who work at least 30 hours a week.
“We’ve been fighting for insurance for the past 2 to 3 years,” Ramos said. “The administration doesn’t want to agree on anything our union is proposing to them.”
According to Adam Rosen, the communications director for SEIU Local 73, contracts for IA’s, secretaries and clerks come up for renewal every three years. He said that this year, the District sensed that the union workers were weak and have tried to take advantage of them.
“It’s basically a complete lack of respect for these workers by District management and the superintendent,” he said. “Their proposals on this new contract were focused on cutting, cutting, cutting. They want to cut IA hours from 32 to 29 to avoid complying with Obamacare, along with no wage increase in the first year of the contract and eliminating seniority rights so they can replace anyone or fire anyone if comes to that. These ladies and gentlemen have had enough of it.
“We started mediation the last session before this one and [someone who was inside the mediation] came back to us and said, ‘You’re weak and [the District management] doesn’t expect you guys to do anything. Our members aren’t going to take this anymore. They aren’t weak and they’re ready to fight.”
Rosen said that 95 percent of the District 89 IA, clerks and secretaries his union represents are women. According to its website, the SEIU Local 73 represents some 28,000 public service employees throughout Illinois and Northwest Indiana.
When asked what union members would do if the District didn’t soften its stance, Rosen said that several options are on the table.
“Our members would never accept a contract that is [as devastating as the current proposal],” he said. “We could take a strike vote and and possibly go on strike at the end of the year. If the District were to cut hours, there could be the possibility of bringing up a Fair Labor Standards charge. We have many options out there.”
Rosen said that District 89 isn’t unique with respect to what his union considers to be its disrespectful negotiating tactics.
“We’ve seen a lot of this. We represent [workers in] about 150 different municipalities. One example is workers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). The administration didn’t want to give a raise or anything out until we took a strike vote. Meanwhile, managers are getting 15 percent bonuses on six-figure salaries.”
For his part, Superintendent Robey responded in an email that it would be inappropriate to discuss the proposals that either side have put forth and that the District is disappointed in the SEIU’s negotiating tactics, saying that the union is negotiating through students and families. Furthermore, he said that the union is presenting a single proposal outside of the whole package and inaccurately claiming that the isolated proposal constitutes a drastic cut that will have a negative impact on children. The flyer, he noted, is not completely accurate and doesn’t tell the whole story.
By tomorrow, the results of the latest round of negotiations should be made clear. More as this story develops. VFP
For regular updates, like us on Facebook: