One of the last non-union public school districts begins to unionize | State and regional


Educators in one of the state’s few non-union public school districts said Monday they had started organizing workers and hoped to join one of the state’s largest teachers’ unions.

The majority of teachers and certified staff at Northbrook 28 Suburban School District filed cards with the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board declaring their intention to form a union on Friday, Dan Montgomery said, president of the Northbrook Federation of Teachers District 28, Illinois Federation of Teachers.

IFT officials said the authorization cards were filed by “a strong majority of employees” from the three elementary schools and one college in District 28, and once the new union is certified, the members will begin the process of establishing the union governance structure and electing officers. .

“There are very few, only a handful, of public school districts in Illinois that are not union affiliated, and this is a K-8 district, so it’s pretty big,” Montgomery said.

If approved, 230 certified teachers and staff in District 28 will become a board of Local 1274 of the North Suburban Teachers Union, a local union of the IFT, which is a state affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers. / AFL-CIO.

District 28 Superintendent Larry Hewitt said the district was made aware of the IFT’s petition on Friday and that it “will follow the Labor Council process and respect any decision made by the majority of our staff in this regard. which concerns representation “.

The District 28 Education Board and Administration will continue to work with our professional staff, and any representative they choose, to uphold the values ​​we share in providing Northbrook District 28 students with an education. of high quality, “Hewitt said in a statement. Monday statement. “We are extremely proud of the way our staff continue to support students and their continued resilience in this third year of unprecedented circumstances due to the pandemic.”

The percentage of Illinois public educators who are union members is among the highest in the United States, said Montgomery, who estimates that less than 10% of teachers employed in public school districts across the state are not members of the IFT or the Illinois Education Association.

The IFT recently hired an additional organizer to help with what Montgomery described as a “record number” of non-union educators asking for help during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have never seen such exhausted teachers in September, and we are still in the midst of this pandemic,” Montgomery said. “Even though our teachers are highly vaccinated, they have seen a lot of illness and even death, and they have to deal with so much right now. “

As the state’s largest teachers’ union, IEA officials said, like the IFT, they are also seeing an increase in queries during the pandemic of uncertified school workers, including teacher assistants, babysitters, dining room workers and administrative assistants, who wish to become union members. .

“We have new residents in the upstate in places like Elmwood Park, Hillside and Rockton, as well as new members in the upstate, in Chester and Casey-Westfield to name a few. -uns, “said IEA President Kathi Griffin. “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for unions. “

According to a 2020 report from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the nationwide highest unionization rates are found among protective service workers, including police and firefighters, at around 37%, followed by education, training and library professions, at 36%. .

Northbrook Junior High School teacher Nicole Gas said that while the teachers in District 28 already had a good working relationship with the administrators and the district education council, the teachers decided to organize a union. with the aim of “streamlining communication and collaboration”.

“In the past, we had a lot of different committee meetings, but when you streamline this process, you get the time back to prepare or grade the classes,” she said. “We want to make sure we can stay focused on our students. “

“This is by no means retaliation against our administration, and we hope to be able to establish a really strong system of collaboration,” Gas added.

The relative scarcity of teacher strikes reflects the constructive working relationships typically forged between teacher unions and district administrators and education councils, said Robert Bruno, professor and director of the work education program at the school. ‘University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Still, Bruno said the hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have underscored the central role unions play in standing up for their employees, not just in schools, but across industries and professions.

“The pandemic has made all workers more vulnerable, with some being made redundant and others forced to work in conditions prejudicial to their health and safety,” Bruno said. “It is still a remarkably difficult time for educators.

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey, leader of IFT’s largest union, released a statement Monday welcoming District 28 employees into the fold.

“The last 20 months of the pandemic have shown that it takes strong advocacy and strong organization to create safety and protection on the ground in our school communities,” said Sharkey. “Our unity strengthens our ability to earn that security for all and ensure that every student gets the support they need. “


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