Support staff in New Lenox District 122 vote to unionize

The New Lenox Elementary District 122 support staff has filed its intent to unionize with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, which is likely to complete the review process to establish the new union by August, according to the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

The new union will be a council of American Federation of Teachers Local 604, which represents teachers and other education workers across Northern Illinois and the Chicago suburbs.

It would represent the district’s 155 professional staff, including its paraprofessionals, library aides, school nurses, registrars, technology support specialists, clerical staff and custodial personnel.

School District 122 support staff works in 12 school buildings and the district office. The district serves more than 5,000 students from preschool to eighth grade in the New Lenox area, according to its website.

The professional support staff will use their voice to negotiate good contracts, provide fair wages, encourage staff retention, prioritize equity and inclusion and ensure equal access to professional development and job promotion, according to the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

Chris Groch, paraprofessional at Cherry Hill Early Childhood Education Center, said fair wages, staff retention and having a seat at the table are among the ways the new union can better advocate for the students.

The district does not want to lose its quality staff to other school districts, Groch said. The students enjoy seeing the same faces and developing relationships with the staff, Groch said. The staff is happier when there is less turnover because then training doesn’t have to start over, she said.

“Happy staff, happy students,” she said. “Everybody in the community wins. It’s exciting. We are getting the ball rolling.”

A strong majority of the district’s support staff filed authorization cards to form the union, according to the Illinois Federation of Teachers. Once the union is certified later this summer, members will begin the process to establish a governing structure and elect leadership.

Any contract negotiations wouldn’t begin until after the union has been formally certified.

District 122 Superintendent Lori Motsch released a statement on behalf of the district acknowledging the recent filing.

“We are committed to maintaining open and constructive communication throughout this process and adhering to the guidelines set forth by the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board,” the statement read.

Michelle Mullins is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.

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