BESD rally

Bourbonnais Elementary School District teachers and supporters take part in a rally march along North Convent Street as the negotiation process continues.

BOURBONNAIS — The teacher strike in Bourbonnais has been ongoing for a week now, as a contract agreement remains elusive after two bargaining sessions totaling about 10 hours this week. Negotiations are set to resume at 5:30 p.m. today.

The Bourbonnais Education Association and Bourbonnais School Board met for about seven hours Tuesday and three hours Wednesday.

Yet to be resolved are specifics dealing with health insurance structure and the amount of the district’s contribution toward the health insurance of future employees, according to statements from both parties.

The board said it has increased its salary offer to a 10.5 percent increase over three years.

How long could this last?

John Brosnan, special counsel to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, explained how the strike process typically works in a phone interview Wednesday.

He said that the seven-hour meeting Tuesday was probably a good sign that progress was being made toward an agreement.

“I’ve seen other cases where they’ll meet for 15 or 20 minutes,” he said. “Those ones are more worrisome because that’s a sign they barely had time to chat.”

While every case is different, teacher strikes typically end with a resolution within a week or so, Brosnan said.

The strike puts pressure on both sides — with teachers going unpaid, and the district facing unhappy parents — which tends to push them toward an agreement.

“Teacher strikes, because of people wanting their kids in school and things like that, don’t drag out as long,” he said. “Generally, they tend to get wrapped up pretty quickly.”

There have been instances in which a tentative agreement was reached later the same day after teachers declared a strike. In other cases, teacher strikes have lasted two to three weeks.

Occasionally, there will be a situation where no movement is made toward an agreement for a substantial period of time. In those instances, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service can get involved to help settle the dispute.

“There are situations where both sides get their backs up and have a hard time finding a middle ground,” Brosnan said. “The FMCS people are very good at explaining to each side, look, I know this is what you want, but realistically you’re not going to get this with this contract.”

In the private sector, employers sometimes will hire replacements for workers to try to break the strike, but there are provisions to prevent that in the public sector, such as with school districts, Brosnan said.

Where do we go from here?

How soon schools are back in session after a strike depends on the circumstances, Brosnan said.

Typically, once a tentative agreement is reached, school would resume very soon, maybe a day or two later.

For example, if a deal is reached Thursday, school might then resume on Monday.

Upon a tentative agreement, the parties would still have to go back and forth drafting the language of the contract, which could take a month to six weeks. Both sides would also have to vote on the contract for it to become official.

“It might not be the next day, but [schools would reopen] pretty soon thereafter [a tentative deal],” he said. “They are certainly not going to wait until the contract is fully drafted or anything.”

What about summer school?

Bourbonnais Superintendent Adam Ehrman has said the district intends to make up days lost due to a teachers strike during the summer, particularly because so much class time has already been lost this school year due to the pandemic.

Brosnan said some districts opt not to make up days, for example, if the strike only lasted three days and there are a few snow days allowed into the calendar.

However, if the strike stretches beyond four or five days, most districts don’t have enough snow days to account for the loss and still meet the state’s requirements for a full school year.

Making up days during spring break can be an option, but parents often don’t want that because they may already have made plans, Brosnan said.

Usually, both sides will negotiate how and when days lost to a strike are to be made up in the calendar, he said.

Reporter

Stephanie Markham joined the Daily Journal in February 2020 as the education reporter. She focuses on school boards as well as happenings and trends in local schools. She earned her B.A. in journalism from Eastern Illinois University.