CARPENTERSVILLE – The 1,300-member LEAD300 union Sunday voted to authorize its bargaining team to call for a strike if it felt it was necessary.
The District 300 union membership met in the Dundee-Crown High School field house. The area where the teachers were seated, which has a capacity of 1,200 people, was fairly full, said Mike Williamson, the union's communications committee chairman.
In the Sunday vote, 97 percent voted in favor of authorizing a strike.
Williamson reiterated that the move does not mean the union will go on strike, and added no one wants to go on strike.
He said the union is not under any obligation to use the authorization immediately.
The union and the district are still in mediation, and neither side has declared an impasse.
The next bargaining session is on Tuesday. LEAD300's contract with the district expired on June 30. It was a one-year deal.
District teachers last went on strike in 1972.
Williamson called the strike authorization a vote of confidence in the bargaining team.
"We can do this, if it becomes necessary," Williamson said.
During the meeting, at which members arrived subdued, there was lots of applause "when we got to points where we had to stand firm," Williamson said.
Both sides have been negotiating a new contract since the summer and agreed in August to have a third-party mediator help resolve their differences. Shortly after the August announcement, both parties engaged in a short-lived public spat on what has caused negotiations to languish.
The union has wanted smaller class sizes or better compensation for teaching classes that can average between 33 and 37 students at the elementary level.
"It definitely comes to a point when the board is not listening, we need to make it clear ... we're not willing to work under these conditions anymore," Williamson said.
The district board is looking for a long-term deal that doesn’t push the district back into debt during fragile economic times.
School board members have said the district would have to cut programs, services, staff and possibly close buildings if the two sides cannot agree to a deal.
Administrators have said that talks are stalled over finances and how to pay for certain union demands.
Last month, the school board approved a $194.2 million budget that had a projected $1 million surplus. However, that surplus could be eaten up depending on the terms of a new contract, district administrators have said.
Without a new contract, district administrators left teacher salaries unchanged in the budget.