Mendota teachers who don’t want to strike: Here are your options

Mailee Smith

Staff Attorney and Director of Labor Policy

Mailee Smith
/ Labor
October 24, 2019

Mendota teachers who don’t want to strike: Here are your options

A teacher strike in Mendota, Illinois has lasted more than a week – but not all teachers in the small community may want to be on strike.

Teachers in Mendota Elementary School District 289 walked out on strike Oct. 16, and efforts to negotiate a new contract stalled during the weekend.

Located about 90 miles west of Chicago, the small town of just over 7,000 was recently blind-sided by the announced closing of its Del Monte plant. Over 135 salaried and hourly workers – as well as 550 seasonal employees – will be out of a job once the plant closes in 2020.

Despite the unknown economic future, the Mendota Education Association, an affiliate of the Illinois Education Association, is demanding 12.5% increases during three years to base pay and another 12.5%  for the automatic step and lane increases for experience and advancing education. That means by the end of the contract a teacher could make 25% more between regular pay raises and raises for experience.

The district has offered 12.5% base salary increases over the three years and a little more than $1,400 more per step increase per year, but no more for lane increases. The district stated the offer is worth about $16,600 more per teacher over three years.

The union is also demanding the school district pick up the majority of the teachers’ employee pension contribution – 7% of salary out of the required 9% –  by the third year of the contract. This would be up from the 2% the district is currently picking up for teachers. The district has offered to pay 3%.

For any number of reasons – including responsibilities to the 1,100 students that teachers may deem too important to miss or economic uncertainty in the community – some of the 76 teachers may not want to continue to strike.

Here are some answers to questions teachers might be asking, as well as options.

Q: What happens if I am not a member of the union?

A: Nonmembers do not pay any fees to the union. But you are still guaranteed the benefits provided in the collective bargaining agreement.

That’s because decades ago, Illinois’ government union leaders lobbied for the exclusive right to represent all public employees – both members and nonmembers. And that means you retain all benefits provided in your collective bargaining agreement, regardless of membership status.

Examples may include the following:

  • Salary and raises
  • Health insurance
  • Pension benefits
  • Vacation days and holidays
  • Overtime pay
  • Seniority
  • Leaves of absence (including sick leave)

On the other hand, nonmembers are not entitled to perks guaranteed to members through the union’s internal rules or membership agreement. Examples may include:

  • Voting rights (on ratification of contracts, strike authorizations, etc.)
  • Holding union office or representing the union as a delegate to a convention
  • Utilizing union-negotiated discounts (for things such as additional life insurance, health clubs, tickets to events, etc.)
  • Maintaining any liability insurance the union provides, as opposed to insurance provided by the government employer
  • Receiving newsletters or other union publications
  • Attending special union events (such as meetings, picnics, Christmas parties, etc.)

Q: What about liability insurance and job protection?

A: Alternative associations – such as the Association of American Educators – offer liability insurance and job protection coverage, often at a fraction of the cost of union membership.

Q: What happens if I cross the picket line as a nonmember?

A: Nonmembers have more freedom than union members in choosing to go to work during a strike. The union has no disciplinary authority over nonmembers, so it cannot penalize them for working during a strike.

Q: What happens if I cross the picket line as a union member?

A: The union can penalize members who do not honor the strike through fines or other penalties.

Q: What happens if I go on strike as a nonmember?

A: Nonmembers who go on strike will be subject to the same potential repercussions as members who strike.

Not only are striking workers not paid during a strike, but under Illinois law, a government employer can replace striking workers. Depending on the type of strike, employees might not immediately be reinstated to their old jobs when the strike ends.

Q: How do I opt out of the union?

A: Fill out the form on Letters will be sent to the Illinois Education Association and Mendota Elementary District 289 on your behalf, telling them you are resigning union membership and demanding that union dues stop coming out of your paycheck.

Q: What if the union or school district doesn’t honor my request to opt out of the union?

A: You can opt out of union membership at any time and protect yourself against union punishment – such as fines – should you choose to cross a picket line.

But some employers, influenced by union misinformation, are not immediately stopping dues deductions after employees opt out of union membership. And some unions – including IEA – are refusing to stop deducting dues unless requests are submitted within a specific time window dictated by internal union rules. For IEA, that window typically closes on Sept. 15.

We believe it is unconstitutional for employers and unions to continue deducting dues from nonmember paychecks. If you encounter any barriers in your effort to stop dues being deducted from your paycheck or have any other questions regarding opting out of union membership, you can contact us at

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