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District 304 still faces unfair labor practice charge

GENEVA – An unfair labor practice complaint filed against Geneva School District 304 officials last month was not withdrawn and is under investigation by the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board.

Although state labor officials and school district attorney Sarah Miller said it is common practice for an unfair labor charge to be withdrawn once a new contract is in place, the Geneva Education Association is pursuing it.

“We did not negotiate regarding it,” teachers union President Carol Young said. “Teachers feel like they were treated wrongly, so we are moving forward with it.”

Miller said she had been assured by attorneys for the Illinois Education Association and the National Education Association that the charge would be withdrawn.

“The IEA and NEA assured us it would be dropped, and that was communicated to the board,” Miller said. “It is a surprise to us, too, now they are refusing to withdraw it.”

Miller said the school board would file its response to the charge later this week.

The teachers union issued a strike notice during recent contentious contract talks. A strike was averted with a tentative agreement Nov. 12, later ratified by the membership and approved by the school board.

A Nov. 7 letter from the school board warns teachers that if the union begins a work stoppage on or after Nov. 9,  they would “be responsible for their full health and dental insurance premiums for every day during a work stoppage.”

This section of the two-page letter was in boldface type and underlined for emphasis, according to a copy received through the Freedom of Information Act request.

The letter also stated if a strike were to go past Nov. 30, the district would suspend all health and dental coverage until the end of the work stoppage, subject to the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, which gives workers and their families who lose their health benefits the right to group health benefits.

According to the union’s complaint, “The district interfered with, restrained, and/or coerced employees in the exercise of rights guaranteed by the [Illinois Educational Labor Relations] Act, and engaged in bad faith bargaining by announcing a unilateral change to the process for paying employees insurance premiums in the event employees participated in a work stoppage.”

“We won’t stand idly by as the school board behaves in an intimidating manner toward our members,” according to a statement Young issued at the time the complaint was filed.

John Brosnan, special counsel to the labor board, said the investigation is still in its early stages.

Brosnan said the process of investigating the charge could result in having both sides sit down with a mediator and talk things through.

“What might seem like a bad thing to the party filing the charge – once you winnow through the thing – what are you going to get at the end of the day, is they [school board members] might have to post something saying they violated the act,” Brosnan said.

“That is going to cost you money, and there is going to be some sacrificing of the collective bargaining relationship between the parties.”

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