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School Support Staff Strike Continues In Palatine; 'Absolutely No Progress' On Deal

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Hundreds of support staff workers at schools in Palatine were returning to the picket line on Monday, after a week on strike, with no progress so far in contract negotiations.

The Educational Support Personnel Association announced the strike at Palatine Community Consolidated School District 15 on Oct. 16. More than 450 school nurses, secretaries, sign language interpreters, occupational and physical therapists, training assistants, and other support staff have been off the job since.

District 15 spokeswoman Morgan Delack said the two sides have agreed on most issues. The three items under negotiation have been wages, retirement, and when service employees can substitute as teachers.

"Currently, there are 14 areas of contract agreement, and 3 outstanding items remaining," she said.

However, after 14 hours of negotiations on Sunday, union representatives said there was "absolutely no progress" on a new contract.

There was a strong show of support for the workers on Sunday, as they spent the day on the picket line while union negotiators tried to strike a deal with the district.

The support workers have been working without a contract since July.

With some earning about $11 an hour, the union said they are working for poverty wages.

ESPA said it has offered three times to enter binding independent arbitration, "which would allow an outside party to come in, assess the situation and issue an agreement that both sides would have to honor."

"It would essentially end the strike right away. The board once again refused our request for third party arbitration," union spokeswoman Bridget Shanahan said in an email.

District 15 Supt. Scott Thompson said the district is committed to negotiating in good faith until a fair agreement is reached.

"This has been an emotional time for our staff and community. It is easy to put one side against the other, but I want to emphasize that we are all on the same team," Thompson said in an email. "We are all part of the District 15 family with a joint mission of providing an excellent education to our students."

The union also has blasted the district for cutting off health benefits for some striking workers.

The District claimed it warned union members – even those forced back to work by a temporary restraining order the union is fighting – that they would lose their benefits if they went out on strike.

However, the union said its members paid their contributions to the benefits plan through the end of the month, and shouldn't have been cut off.

Classes have continued throughout the strike, but the district acknowledged it has been hard on the kids not having the help of secretaries, clerical staff, program assistants, and nurses. The district said it hopes for a resolution soon.

ESPA members planned to resume picketing on Monday.

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