BUCKTOWN - With little movement after 14 months of contract talks, the union representing support staff in the Owen J. Roberts School District could strike at any time.
Teamsters Local Union No. 384 completed another round of negotiations with the school district on Monday, but both sides are still reportedly far apart.
The union includes teacher's aides, security, clerical staff, housekeeping employees, food service and maintenance personnel. The 208-member support staff has been working under the terms of the old contract since the last contract expired in June 2003.
Union representative Mark Capper said the two sides talked for two hours Monday but the district is unwilling to budge on key issues.
Capper said the two parties were able to tentatively agree on several minor issues, but issues such as benefits and wages have yet to be discussed.
Capper said he presented a comprehensive proposal to the district on wage and benefit requirements, but union members have not yet received a response from the district.
"We are basically at a standstill. We have moved on everything we can move on," Capper said.
Capper said that technically the negotiations have gone on for so long that the employees have the right to strike at any time. Despite that, Capper said he cannot determine the future of negotiations, but union members are frustrated.
"They're aggravated and they really feel as though the district doesn't care for them at all," he said.
Even though the union says negotiations are moving slowly, Charles Sweet, the district's chief negotiator, said many articles of the contract have been agreed upon. According to him, the parties have agreed on 26 out of 37 contract articles and both sides exchanged contract proposals. The district has offered proposals from the first day of negotiations, Sweet said, and Monday was the first time the union has offered a proposal including wages and benefits.
"We've offered proposals from the very beginning and we've urged the union to make proposals," Sweet said.
Sweet said he has not had the opportunity to review the union's proposal; however, the district has informed him of some items that seem unreasonable. One item calls for a 60 percent pay increase over three years for some support staff employees, Sweet said.
Contract negotiations will resume on March 2 and discussions on wages and benefits should begin, Sweet said.
The district was recently found guilty of two of the six labor violation charges filed against it by the union, including making direct deposit of paychecks mandatory for all employees.
In addition to the direct deposit charge, the district was also found guilty of bad faith bargaining after agreeing to several articles during negotiations and then changing the content of the articles after the agreement was made, Capper said.
Capper said the district has made it clear that if Owen J. Roberts employees strike, their positions will be filled by non-union workers. The district recently gave a tour of the school to non-employee food and custodial workers who would serve as potential replacements if a strike occurs, Capper said.
"They were told these men will be providing warm bodies in the event you go on strike," he said.
Sweet said the district is not expecting a strike, but the school does have the obligation to keep the school open in the event negotiations do not continue to move forward.