Paraprofessionals Unions Picket to Urge Rockford #205

- ROCKFORD--They aren't picketing to strike, but they want to make sure it won't get that far.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and Rockford Public School District #205 have been at odds for more than a year over a new collective bargaining agreement. AFSCME is putting the spat in focus by picketing the school board office prior to the weekly board meeting.

"We're looking for a fair contract, a livable wage for our members," said Madeleine Scherod, one of nearly 400 protestors on Tuesday evening. "We want to be able to take care of our families, we want to be able to pay our bills. All these people are hard working people."

The two sides have met more than two dozen times in the past year, but tension has been evident since AFSCME Local 692 and Local 3210 have ramped up media efforts in June in hopes of reaching a deal.

District 205 officials expressed it's disappointment in not keeping the negiotiations at the bargaining table in a letter written back in July. Now, the two sides are set to meet next week with a mediator with the goal of agreeing on a new CBA by the start of classes. It's the first of three mediation sessions scheduled for this month.

"Our focus is to get back to the bargaining table as quickly as possible," said Dr. Ehren Jarrett, Superintendent for Rockford Public School District #205. "It really comes down to salary and benefits at this point, those are huge issues so we've got work to do."

AFSCME represents the districts paraprofessionals, such as bus drivers and food service workers. The sticking points that remain between the two sides are salary and health insurance. The district says it has offered a wage increase and an incentive-laden wellness plan.

"The board really hasn't moved off their mark since early spring in their nutrition services and paraprofessionals contract," said Ed Sadlowski of AFSCME Local 31. "We've offered some alternatives to their health care proposal, but that's fallen on deaf ears."

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