The Battle of Mahomet

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were back in class on Monday, Aug. 23
after the Mahomet Seymour Education
Association (MSEA) and the school
board were able to settle on a new contract
on Aug. 20. The settlement marked
an end to a two-day strike, the first strike
ever in their union’s history.
MSEA secured a one-year contract with a 2.6% raise
(step + .5%) for teachers, 3.5% (step + 1%) for aides and
3.5% for other support staff. Union President Joan Jordan
commented on the two-day strike and the negotiations
saying, “I’ve negotiated several contracts and this has been
the most contentious process I have ever been through.“
The strike was an eruption of continuing disagreement
between the union and the district over issues related to
employment. Board President Terry Greene had said: “The
MSEA president has been quoted as saying ‘[The district
school board’s] got the money and the power and we want
some of both.’ The board of education has quite a different
view.” Although this quote was uttered in the days before
the strike, it aptly encapsulated the heart of the struggle
between MSEA and the school board well prior.
In the summer of 2009, the Mahomet school board,
led by president Terry Greene, had demanded that educational
staff perform medical procedures like giving insulin
shots and inserting catheters. The board refused to negotiate
the issue with MSEA despite significant pressure.
Ultimately, the issue went to a mediator who ruled against
the union.
With this victory fresh in mind and upcoming contract
negotiations looming, the board announced in February
that the FY 2011 budget would have $643,211 in cuts,
including some staff layoffs. The district blamed the economic
downturn and Illinois’ fiscal nightmare as they
spoke about a projected deficit budget. However, as the
union pointed out, the district would not be ‘in the red’ but
rather only less ‘in the black.’ Further undercutting the district’s
cries of poverty was the fact that all proposed staff
cuts, except for those on one year contracts anyway, were
rescinded by the end of March.
Having seen the bogus cuts for what they were, and
since the district had $2.5 million in its general working
fund and another $1.5 million in their education fund, the
union became even more adamant in their demands for
appropriate and fair compensation. It was also recently
announced that the district can expect nearly $700,000
from the Federal Education Jobs bill which is meant to pay
teachers and support professionals. Any of these revenue
streams would have allowed the district to settle a fair and
equitable contract with the educators.
The board contended that tthese funds are for ‘rainy
days’ for which the largest economic meltdown since the
Great Depression does not apply.
Ultimately, the disagreement between MSEA and the
school board was not totally about money. It was, more
importantly, about the power dynamic between the workers
and the board. Throughout these struggles, it
appeared that Greene and the district wanted to bust the
union’s strength and prove that administration and board
run the district.
During the early negotiations, the district’s offer was very
limited. Union president Joan Jordan said: “[the board
offering was] 0% and no vertical or horizontal movement.
So, we weren’t going to get any money for experience for
being here another year nor were they offering any money
if you had gotten more education. And we have to pay for
our own education that we need for our credentials and
also to get paid more.“
After little to no movement by the board throughout
the spring and into the summer, despite good faith negotiations
and movement by the union, MSEA called for a
strike. The vote to authorize the work stoppage was overwhelmingly
supported with a 211-25 vote.
Quickly, the union began organizing. IEA UniServ
Director Gene Vanderport elaborated: “Our folks organized
themselves to make this strike work…so we’re well
organized and that is key.” Many members of the union
volunteered for a number of committees to ensure that a
strike would likely be successful.
The final offer made by the district prior to the strike
was for a 2.1% raise for teachers, 2.5% for aides and 2.5%
for other support staff. Based on this proposal, union
members making as little as $16,500 would actually suffer
pay cuts due to rising insurance costs. So, this proposal
was rejected.
Prior to the final bargaining session scheduled to take
place before the scheduled start of classes, the district
canceled school until further notice because of the potential
strike. Board President Greene and the district unilaterally
left the negotiations without even looking at a proposal
by the union. MSEA members were visibly upset as
Greene went to the media demanding that the union
accept the lowest offer seen in that district for years and
make it binding for two years. Some felt that the pre-emptive
canceling of school meant that the district was not
interested in negotiating.
MSEA hit the ground running with coordinated committees
ensuring that picketers were transported, given
water and fed. Others worked on producing press releases
and speaking to media about the realities of the strike. The
union was quite prepared and had a very effective presence.
Outside of a few middle fingers or catcalls, the overwhelming
reception to the strike was positive. Many
honked horns and waved. Some students even joined the
rallying workers with signs like ‘Our teachers rock!’
The negotiations at the end of strike day one failed to
bring a settlement as Board President Greene and the district
walked out of negotiations for the second time that
week. Many observers noticed the contradictions in the
boards actions, demanding a settlement in the presson the
one hand and walking out of negotiations multiple times
on the other.
Day two of the strike continued in a similar vein. A rally
was held prior to the start of negotiations as cries for a fair
contract echoed in the air. By 2:30 pm that day, a contract
settlement had been reached.
After successfully negotiating this highly contentious contract,
MSEA president Joan Jordan stated: “It’s a major victory
for us and the victory came in [the school board]
understanding that we are a union and we are going to
stand up for ourselves and we will do what it takes to get
some action out of the school board.“
The union emphasized that the contract was about
more than sick days and money. It was about power and
leadership. Jordan reflected: “Part of it was personal. The
chief negotiator and myself have been active union members
our entire careers and [the school board] just wanted
to make the rest of the union know that ‘you shouldn’t be
following them.’“
The struggle of Mahomet educators marks another victory
for organized labor and educators within the state of Illinois.

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