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Niles teachers vote for strike notice

NILES — The Niles Education Association, which represents district teachers, voted unanimously to issue a notice of intent to strike at 12:01 a.m. Sept. 1 if an agreement is not reached between the Niles Board of Education and the union before then.

The parties have been engaged in negotiations for a new three-year agreement since March. A session with a federal mediator on Monday yielded little progress and negotiations stalled, according to a news release from the teachers union.

The board’s representatives were unprepared to resume mediation Thursday but agreed to meet again Aug. 26. The teachers union is required to give at least a 10-day notice before its members strike. They are now just fewer than four weeks from the potential walkout.

“It is with a heavy heart that our membership decided to send a 10-day strike notice to the board. Niles teachers want to be in the classroom doing the work we love, teaching the children of the Niles community,” Niles Education Association President Tracy Ledsome said. “Our team is ready and willing to resume negotiations as soon as the board’s representatives are ready. We are still hopeful that an agreement can be reached. Niles teachers appreciate the continued support of the Niles community as we work diligently to achieve a fair and equitable contract with the Niles Board of Education.”

The Niles Teachers Association represents 151 educators.

Superintendent Ann Marie Thigpen said in a statement the board of education is working hard and negotiating in good faith.

“Our No. 1 priority remains our students — and we believe firmly that we share that priority with our dedicated teachers,” Thigpen said. “Although we have no intention of negotiating this contract in public, our hope is to reach a fair and fiscally responsible agreement that keeps our students’ education at the forefront.”

School begins for Niles students and teachers on Aug. 29. If the teachers were to strike, it would begin on the fourth day of school.

At the July 28 school board meeting, about 100 teachers brought signs to line the entryway of the building and into the meeting, standing quietly as the board conducted its business before going into executive session to discuss a new teachers union contract.

One sign read, “I teach my students to put themselves first. Now it’s my turn.” Another read, “We sacrificed in good faith, now bargain in good faith.” Several signs commented on the fact that teacher pay has not been increasing at the same rate as the superintendent’s pay. One sign also read that Niles teachers are the second-lowest paid in the county.

The board will have to vote on the contract before it can take effect. The regular scheduled meeting this month is Aug. 16.

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