Oak Park's village president took a few minutes at the close of last week's village board meeting to say plainly that it is time to settle a contract dispute with the union representing a sliver of village employees. The contract expired three years back. Negotiations have been stuck despite some stunting, including a two-day strike by the union and declarations of final offers having been made.
Anan Abu-Taleb is taking heat from a faction of the village board — trustees Ray Johnson, Colette Lueck and Glenn Brewer — for the alleged offense of breaking protocol. The protocols specifically trodden upon, say the trio, are having the audacity to make public a topic being currently discussed in closed executive session and Abu-Taleb's gall in allegedly speaking for the board.
Let's break these down. It isn't a secret that the SEIU unit has been without a contract since 2010. There was a strike for heaven's sake. That there are continuing negotiations isn't a surprise either. And Abu-Taleb said absolutely nothing that was specific to the talks, the issues that are currently stalling a settlement.
The bigger divide, we assume, is that while Abu-Taleb was cajoling the union to move toward a pact, he was suggesting that the village board was of a single mind in how to reach a settlement. And it isn't.
Since the spring campaign, Abu-Taleb has talked about a financial divide that has prevented settling this contract, which amounts to $30,000, maybe $50,000. Clearly he wanted to settle quickly so that the effort to improve morale among unionized staffers inside village hall might begin. What he has ignored or dismissed is the deeper issue of political philosophy that has largely united the village board — that is, demanding that this contract, and contracts with the other dozen unions with bargaining units with the village, include some form of merit pay.
We believe that is a battle worth waging with all public unions. And it is an area where the SEIU must offer some accommodation and the village board must stand firm. So where are the areas the village can bend so that a pact can be had? Let's actively find them.
But let's avoid the dramatics over Abu-Taleb's tactics and style. First, what he did in talking publicly about this issue isn't a big deal. Our village board has fallen into a pace in dealing with issues that is too slow and too often hidden. The new president is committed to changing that approach. It is what he ran on. It is what he won big on. So adjust.
And move forward.