District 15 Bargaining Date Moved Up, Union Wants Staff Back To Work

CHICAGO (CBS) — Palatine District 15 may reach an agreement with the union sooner than scheduled and be able to return to work with new contracts.

The District was originally scheduled to bargain with the union on Sunday, but now they have agreed to meet sooner. CBS 2’s Sandra Torres has more.

A union spokesperson told CBS the District has agreed to bargain on Friday at 11 a.m. and while union members will still be back Thursday to picket, the District is honoring excused absenses if a student’s needs cannot be met in class.

While support staff in Palatine District 15 stay on the picket line, 8-year-old Jessica Coop stays home.

“She’s autistic. She needs somebody with her at all times to help guide her and keep her on track as you can see,” said mother, Marisol Coop.

That someone is a program assistant at Kimball Hill Elementary in Palatine, one of more than 400 staff members currently on strike.

“If she didn’t see her PA she would be non-compliant for the entire day, so I have to think about her safety, other children’s safety. I won’t risk it,” Coop said.

“It’s very disruptive,” said Superintendent Scott Thompson.

Thompson said the District decided to keep all 20 schools open, even after a judge reversed an order to temporarily allow 168 nurses and other essential support staff to walk out.

RELATED: Judge Rules All District 15 School Support Staff Can Join Strike

“We are more disappointed in the union leadership not accepting our request to come back to work while negotiations were going on. That request has been repeated and repeatedly denied,” he said.

A strike by the Educational Support Personnel Association at Palatine Community Consolidated School District 15 started with 454 employees on Oct. 16. The strike included nurses, special education classroom aides, clerical workers, secretaries, sign language interpreters, occupational and physical therapists, training assistants, and other support staff.

The district and ESPA have been negotiating a new contract since February, and the workers have gone without a contract since July. The main points of contention have been wages, health care benefits, and pensions.

“Our beginning employees earn over $11 an hour. That translates to about $12,000 a year,” said Jennifer Elkins, Special Education Classroom Aide.

And while the District said they are offering a reasonable package, union members and parents like Marisol Coop said it is not enough.

“They deserve a lot more than what they are getting,” Coop said.

The District and the union are scheduled to meet Sunday to continue negotiations but the Union hopes to meet before then, so that staff can get back to work.

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