Teacher union postpones potential Aug. 19 strike

The Naperville Unit Education Association, which represents certified educators at Naperville District 203, will postpone a potential Aug. 19 strike due to a delay in the mandated publication of the association’s and district’s contract proposals.

The development follows another week without significant changes in contract negotiations between the association and the district.

Section 13(b)(2) of the Illinois Education Labor Relations Act (115 ILCS 5) requires that the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB) post both the union’s and employer’s proposals on their website for 14 days before the union can strike. Despite both the association and district having filed their proposals to the IELRB on July 29, a third-party technical error occurred in posting those documents. 

“The Educational Labor Relations Board is a very small agency without dedicated IT staff and the Agency does not manage its website,” the Illinois Content Management Services webmaster wrote in an email on behalf of the IELRB. “There were some technical difficulties with the request (sent on 8/5/21) to have the information posted.”

Although Section 12(a-5)(2) of the aforementioned act required the IELRB to publish the proposals within seven days of their filing, Aug. 5, they were published Aug. 10. 

Though the posting date on the IELRB website was backdated to Aug. 5, from a legal standpoint, Aug. 10 would instead be “the official date set forth in Section 13” of the act, said Ellen Strizak, the general counsel of the IELRB.

District 203 used its Talk203 message system on Aug. 9 and 10 to identify a potential Aug. 19 work stoppage as an “illegal strike,” most likely in response to the IELRB posting delay.  Central Times reached out to district administration for comment, but was again denied and, instead, directed to the postings on the district  website  

To follow the new and later public posting date, teachers must now wait until at least Aug. 24 to legally strike, despite the NUEA’s insistence on not returning to classrooms without a settled agreement. Over 95% of NUEA members voted last week to authorize a strike if a final contract could not be negotiated before Aug. 19, the start of the school year. 

The NUEA will also choose not to pursue legal action against the IELRB, as it would be near impossible to prove irreparable harm, association president Dan Iverson said. 

“We still retain the right to strike,” he said. “Just not when we wanted to. Not that we ever wanted to strike, but it removed an option.” 

Despite the postponement of a strike, both the district and union may utilize the extra time to gain public support for their proposals, which Michael LeRoy, a professor at the University of Illinois School of Law, says is part of the legislative intent behind the 14-day waiting period.   

“The union could actually use that time to get parents and students to walk the picket line with them, hold signs and call the school board,” he said. “It can go the other way. When the Chicago teachers union has gone on strike, they’ve had a mixed outcome. Some parents actually protest against the union.” 

For now, both sides say they are working to reach an agreement as early as possible. 

“We’re going to go back in there in good faith, and so is the district,” Iverson said. “We’ll do what we can to make this work.” 

The parties held another bargaining session Aug. 13. Sessions are scheduled for Aug. 17 and 18 if necessary.