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GEA Rallies Hundreds, Intent-to-Strike Permission Sought

WGIL Newsroom . Local News 649

Picket2In what may be a preview of things to come, the Galesburg Education Association was hosting an informational picket, Tuesday afternoon.

Hundreds gathered on the front lawn and sidewalk of Galesburg High School in support of reaching a contract settlement.

The GEA and the District 205 Board of Education have been in mediation for some time, but the current multi-year agreement is set to expire on Thursday of this week. As the contract deadline draws closer, several union representatives have been cited as saying a teacher strike is becoming increasingly likely.

Gina Simpson is a 5th grade teacher at Gale Elementary. She was in attendance at Tuesday’s picket and tells WGIL she’ll agree to go on strike if that’s what is asked of her.

“I would prefer not to do this,” says Simpson. “I really would prefer not to do this. I would rather do it peacefully, I’m kind of a peaceful person. I don’t want to do this.”

While the teachers, students, and other supporters in attendance at Tuesday’s  rally carried signs and encouraged traffic to show its support via vehicle horns, District Paraprofessional Kandice Miles tells WGIL that she believes a strike may be undesirable.

“I think it’s a horrible option, but it’s an option,” says Miles. “No one ever wins, so I hope it doesn’t come to that.”

Further contract discussions were held after Tuesday’s picket for several hours. At last check, the District is seeking a 2.02-percent average raise in 2014, followed by a 2.06-percent raise in 2015 with the aim of getting to a 2.27-percent average increase by 2016. The GEA is seeking across the board 1.5-percent increases for all of its teachers and paraprofessionals.

District 205 Superintendent Bart Arthur tells WGIL that in the last contract, there were salary steps included.

“Originally the board’s proposal was that we wanted to throw that out and go with a five year contract, a hard freeze, and we’ve come way beyond that,” says Arthur. “We agree we don’t want to get rid of the salary schedule. Our hope is that the percentages that are in there are just the average step for each individual and we’re hopeful that’s a fair offer.”

The teacher’s union posted their recent contract proposal alongside the School Board’s recommendation on their website late last week. However, the District’s proposal for a slightly increasing 2-percent annual average increase was first learned in documents released to media on Monday night.

GEA Spokesperson Tami Qualls tells WGIL the union has questions about a contract disclosure made by the district prior to mediation.

“I think it goes against Unfair Labor Practices, because they’re supposed to discuss that first at the table with the union members not anything other than what the original proposals were,” says Qualls. “That’s supposed to be confidential so that’s a big question for us.”

When asked about the actions, Arthur said the District feels comfortable with what they did.

Few details can be released at this point, but according to the GEA website, Tuesday night’s mediation “has failed.” The teacher’s union says they will be holding an all-membership meeting on Thursday at Galesburg High School to ask for permission to submit an intent-to-strike notice to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board.

Further mediation sessions are scheduled on August 11th and 12th.