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Judge rules 911 dispatchers can’t take part in strike

Updated: December 18, 2013 6:41AM



A Will County judge on Friday granted a temporary restraining order that will force 911 dispatchers to work even if their union goes on strike as planned at 7 a.m. Monday.

The county had filed a similar request with the Illinois Labor Relations Board, but the board’s scheduled hearing isn’t until Monday morning, the day the strike is supposed to start unless there is a last-minute contract settlement over the weekend.

“We can’t wait for the hearing because of the public’s health and safety,” said Bruce Tidwell, the county’s human resources director. “We have to do this (court action).”

Judge Theodore Jarz ruled that the 911 dispatchers, technically called telecommunicators, would have to stay on the job.

“If the Illinois Labor Relations Board determines ... that a strike involving the telecommunicators would not create a clear and present danger to the public safety, this order will expire at that time,” he wrote in the order.

The last-minute court filing is the latest action Will County government is taking as it girds for a strike that could affect up to 1,000 members of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Local 1028.

Some of the employees work in critical areas, and 911 dispatchers would be especially tough to replace, Tidwell said. Supervisors are going to pitch in and some sheriff’s police sergeants and deputies have been given a “crash course” in answering 911 calls, but they can’t handle the computer-aided-design maps, so others will have to help, he said.

Overflow calls that aren’t picked up will go to the Joliet Police Department’s 911 dispatchers and other dispatch centers in the county, Tidwell said.

Coroner Pat O’Neil said he, too, is asking the labor relations board to determine that his six deputy coroners are essential and should not be allowed to strike. He will be at a hearing Monday before the labor relations board to argue his case. O’Neil said his office handles eight to nine death cases a day, and without the union workers his office cannot function efficiently.

“It certainly is a public health and safety issue,” he said. “We cannot rely on someone else to do our job.”

His workers were not part of Friday’s temporary restraining order.

The county is preparing to hire private nurses to cover work at the county-owned Sunny Hill Nursing Home. A private vendor will prepare meals at the county jail.

Patients seeking counseling services at the Will County Health Department will be referred to Aunt Martha’s. And if it snows, county roads will be plowed by township highway departments, Tidwell said.

The county’s community health center will have to schedule fewer visits, and patients can be referred to Aunt Martha’s clinic, too, he said.

Will County Clerk Nancy Schultz Voots has canceled Saturday hours until the contract is settled. She said she has about nine nonunion employees who will work the counter and assist customers. She also gave her cellphone number to employees who fear crossing a picket line. She said she will personally escort them into the building.

“I told them, ‘If you’re leery about coming in, I’ll come out and walk in with you,’ ” she said. “We’ve got to protect them, too. The least I can do is support them.”

Over at the courthouse, bailiffs and minute clerks who handle files for judges all could walk off the job, Chief Judge Richard Schoenstedt said. But court reporters who record testimony in felony cases are state employees and are not part of Local 1028.

Schoenstedt said if his bailiffs and minute clerks don’t show up for work, he will make do with sheriff’s deputies, and judges can enter case information into their iPads.

Assistant state’s attorneys who work in Local 1028 cannot go on strike because it would violate their profession’s ethics, officials have said. Civil division assistant state’s attorneys are not in Local 1028.

Employees in the auditor’s and treasurer’s offices are nonunion.

By law, correctional officers at the jail cannot strike, even though they are in Local 1028.

Schoenstedt said he expects all of the judges to cross the picket line because “we do have an oath.”

He also said that while county government will make do to keep services going, “We all wish this wasn’t happening.”

Tidwell said if the strike happens, the county will be as ready as it can be.

“The same services provided today will be provided on Monday,” he said.



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