Geneva teachers union strike leaves 5,800 students in the lurch

Geneva teachers union strike leaves 5,800 students in the lurch

Six years after last threatening to strike, the teachers union walked the picket line – a collective bargaining tactic not allowed in any of Illinois’ neighboring states.

On the morning of Dec. 4, 5,800 students at Geneva Community Unit School District 304 schools stayed home while district teachers went on strike. The district cancelled all classes, field trips, after-school events and athletics for the day, according to the Courier-News.

On Dec. 3, the union and school board negotiated over a new contract from 6 p.m. until after midnight without reaching an agreement. The union made the call to strike after 2 a.m., according to the Courier-News. The union’s most recent contract with the district expired in August.

The Geneva Education Association, which represents over 450 teachers in District 304, called for a “step-and-lane” salary schedule. “Steps” typically refer to tenure, or how many years a teacher has been teaching, and “lanes” typically refer to the level of education the teacher has attained. Steps and lanes are part of a complex and arcane compensation system for government workers that often allows salary increases for government workers to appear smaller than they actually are.

These steps and lanes are part of salary schedules that pay all teachers in the same step and lane the same salaries, regardless of those teachers’ skills, effectiveness or achieved outcomes for students. Step-and-lane increases can have a significant effect on teacher salaries. And due to steps and lanes, teachers’ yearly raises could be much higher than what the union says, as step-and-lane increases come in addition to annual salary increases.

Union leaders had met earlier with the District 304 board the weekend of Nov. 30, during which the district presented an offer that included 17 percent raises for new teachers and 1.2 percent increases for veteran teachers. Both would set in over a four-year period, according to the Courier-News.

The union rejected the offer, instead proposing to narrow the gap between new and veteran teachers’ salary increases, and including the step-and-lane salary schedule.

Students at the Fox Valley Career Center, the park district-run Friendship Station preschool program and a Mid-Valley Special Education Cooperative program were not affected by the strike, according to the Courier-News.

District 304 teachers last threatened to strike in 2012, but reached an agreement with the board hours before the scheduled strike.

Unfortunately, this is too often how collective bargaining works for local governments in Illinois. When a government worker union doesn’t get its way, it can threaten to shut down important services until its demands are met.

That, in turn, forces school districts to make unfair choices: either bow to the government union’s expensive demands, or risk a strike that could leave students and parents in the lurch.

It’s an uneven playing field, with government worker unions holding the power. Taxpayers are forced to watch from the sidelines, powerless as their hard-earned money is strong-armed away.

Illinois has enshrined a “right to strike” for most government workers in state law. Conversely, each one of Illinois’ neighbors prohibits most or all government workers from going on strike.

A government worker strike is different than a strike in the private sector. When government worker unions threaten to strike, they are threatening to shut down government functions and deprive residents of vital services. It isn’t the party sitting on the other side of the negotiating table, such as the governor or a city council, that directly bears the harm – it’s the residents themselves.

Illinois should follow the lead of its neighbors. Otherwise, government worker unions across the state will continue wielding power over the people of Illinois – and taxpayers will continue paying heavily for it.

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