Zion-Benton district teachers on strike

January 5, 2012 9:02:56 PM PST
Talks will resume on Friday between striking teachers and negotiators for Zion-Benton High School District 126.

The teachers went on strike early Thursday morning when negotiations between the two sides broke down.

School officials canceled classes along with all campus and extra-curricular activities for about 2,800 students who attend the district's two schools -- Zion Benton Township High School and New Tech High School.

Classes have been canceled again for Friday.

"It's just a longer winter break, so that's okay for me," said Eric Grieshber, Zion-Benton High School student.

"I don't know what the problem is. I just know we have a day off so I can come play basketball," said Jonathan Nam, Zion Benton High School student.

"We're not in school. We'd like to be back," said Scott Peckler, Zion Benton High School, drivers education teacher.

"On Wednesday, they gave us all our work if we did miss school. And they told us there was a 90 percent chance they won't be there today," said Jose Hernandez, New Tech High School student.

"All the sports are canceled...And we have finals next week too so they kind of messed us up with that," said Anthony Schwartz, Zion-Benton High School.

The two sides have been in talks since April of last year. Teachers and support staff have been working without a contract since July. The sticking points are pay and the cost of health insurance.

"The union feels that it's very important that there be a cost-sharing in existence with that healthcare plan and not just the cost going to the employee, because that removes the watchdog factor from the district to keep the premiums low," said Michelle Standridge, Illinois Federation of Labor.

But district officials say they had a budget deficit last year and are operating under a deficit reduction plan ordered by the Illinois State Board of Education.

"We're hopeful that the strike will be a short one and that the parties can come to an agreement, so we're working diligently to try to come up with an agreement to get the kids back in school, because ultimately it is the kids who will suffer," said Tony Ficarelli, district lawyer and chief negotiator.

In the meantime, some parents are just concerned about children's education.

"With finals coming up, it's kind of a stickler that this has had to happen because they need to be in there reviewing for the finals to get their final semester grades for the first semester," said Vicki Gron, parent.

The next round of negotiations takes place on Friday. As of Friday afternoon, a neutral meeting place had not yet been decided upon.