District 15 striker quits job rather than obey judge's order

Saturday, October 21st, 2017 - Resume

Carrie Corona says she chose to take a stand and quit her job at Palatine Township Elementary District 15 rather than follow a judge’s order prohibiting nurses and special education classroom aides from being part of a support employees strike.

So, instead of working with special ed students at John G. Conyers Learning Academy in Rolling Meadows, Corona was on the picket line Thursday at Winston Campus elementary and junior high schools in Palatine. The longtime educator started at District 15 in August as a program assistant in special-needs and high-risk classrooms.

Cook County Judge Neil Cohen ruled Tuesday in favor of a district complaint that sought injunctive relief and a temporary restraining order to prohibit “essential” workers from striking. He ordered the 168 striking nurses and special education classroom aides to return to work immediately. The strike began Monday.

Corona said she resigned at 1 p.m. Tuesday. District 15 spokeswoman Morgan Delack said Corona’s was the lone resignation from the employees who had to return to their jobs.

“I thought, someone’s got to take a stance,” said Corona, 49, of Northbrook, a divorced mother of two children. “And it was me. I had to be the voice. I would not change my decision. Though I struggle financially on my own, I have to stand firm on my principle and my beliefs and the way I was raised.”

Contract negotiations between District 15 and the Educational Support Personnel Association union are to resume Sunday morning. While an agreement was not reached after a 12-hour bargaining session overseen by a federal mediator Wednesday, both sides said progress toward a new deal was made.

Bridget Shanahan, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Education Association, said the union intends to contest Cohen’s ruling, which reduced the strikers from 454 to 286. The Palatine local is affiliated with the statewide union.

An expert on Illinois labor relations laws, Chicago-Kent College of Law Professor Martin Malin said he knows of only one other strike by an educational employer that was barred by an injunction. He said it happened last month after a Cook County judge ruled 213 nurses at the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago couldn’t strike because it endangered patient safety.

Under the most recent available public document, District 15 was offering a five-year contract with a 1.85 percent increase in each of the first two years, and 1.85 percent to 2.25 percent annually for the three-year balance to coincide with the applicable tax cap.

The union was seeking a 2.5 percent annual wage hike in each year of a five-year deal, but Shanahan said it would generally amount to 10 to 25 cents more an hour.

District 15 Deputy Superintendent Matthew Barbini said all of the striking support workers are valued and that he’s optimistic about Sunday’s scheduled negotiations. He added he could not address Corona’s decision to resign.

“With respect to anyone’s individual decision regarding their employment, that’s deeply personal,” he said.

Corona said she was paid $12.30 an hour. She said she’d be open to returning after a contract agreement is reached.

“When I started at Conyers Learning Academy, I felt like I had found my forever job,” she said. “I felt at home. I was surrounded by people who were there for the same reason, which was not money, though we deserve a fair settlement.”

Under the previous contract, District 15’s wage scale had support employees starting at $11.30 an hour and going up to $37.76 per hour, depending on the job and years of employment. Talks on a new deal began in February.

Schools remain open for the district’s roughly 12,800 students, in part because the teachers’ contract doesn’t allow them to honor the support employees’ picket lines. The teachers union made a controversial 10-year deal with the district in 2016.

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