MURPHYSBORO — After attempting to get a contract since the end of the last school year, the Murphysboro Education Association voted to approve this week an intent to strike — after years of putting themselves second, the union’s vice president said the teachers would like to be on the receiving end of at least some of the district’s recently-found secure financial footing.
“This should be easy,” said Melinda Pierson, an instructor at General John A. Logan Attendance Center and the union’s vice president. She said with the knowledge that the district was in a better financial place because of changes to the education funding model, teachers were optimistic that this round of contract negotiations would go smoothly.
That has not been the case, she said. Pierson said even the start of negotiations were delayed after a request to meet was met with silence for weeks. Since then, things have deteriorated, and a national mediator was brought in.
Pierson said that there is not one sticking point in the negotiations, but more that there just has not been a general consensus enough to finalize any sort of contract — something teachers have been without since the school year began.
“It feels to us like the district is trying to win,” she said of the delays and lack of agreement.
“We are overdue,” Pierson said.
While the state funding was unreliable during the budget impasse, Pierson said teachers took salary freezes, forgoing raises to help the district. Now that things are better, they are looking to get back on track.
Still, Pierson understands the optics — some unions, she said, vote to approve the intent to strike before even even sitting down to negotiate just to let the other side know the option is there.
But, Pierson said Murphysboro is not like that.
“Our teachers want to teach,” she said.
However, Pierson admitted that she’s had to vote this way three times in her nine years in the district — more than she would have liked.
“We would really rather not do it this way,” she said.
Chris Grode is the Murphysboro School District 186 superintendent, and sits on the bargaining committee. He said that both parties have bargained “in good faith” but had to decline comment. He said this was necessary because the ground rules for negotiating required no media comment until Friday, when both sides’ proposals are made public.
The MEA represents 148 teachers in Murphysboro. The next negotiating session is scheduled for Sept. 26.