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Will Co. workers rally for new contract

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Updated: September 24, 2013 6:42AM



Hundreds of Will County government workers marched Thursday through downtown Joliet to show their displeasure with the lack of a new labor contract.

So far during negotiations, the county has offered no cost-of-living raise while demanding “thousands” more in insurance payments from employees, said Dave Delrose, president of Local 1028 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, who estimated the turnout at 500.

“We don’t like where we’re at right now,” Delrose said of negotiations. “Something’s got to change.”

Local 1028’s “March and Rally for a Fair Contract” started at the county courthouse, 14 W. Jefferson St., and proceeded north along Chicago Street to the county office building, 302 N. Chicago St. At one point, Chicago Street was a sea of green because most of the marchers wore matching green union T-shirts.

At the end of the 10-minute march was a rally where union officials and workers urged members to stand strong and together. Representatives of the Will County Central Trades and members of police, Teamsters, machinists and steelworkers unions joined the march.

The group also included Joliet Councilmen Larry Hug and Bob O’Dekirk and county board members Mark Ferry, D-Plainfield, a member of the steelworkers union, and Reed Bible, D-Plainfield.

Ferry said he believes county workers deserve a fair contract. The county may say it doesn’t have the money for raises, he said, “but they’ll find it. You can’t continue to run the county like it’s 1955.”

Delrose said county officials have threatened layoffs in the past if unions demand pay raises.

“They can say layoffs, but who’s going to provide county services?” he asked.

Local 1028 covers 1,260 of the county’s total work force of 2,300 union and nonunion employees. Union and county officials have been negotiating a new contract for about a year.

“It’s too long, too long,” said Dyona Tramel, a union steward in the county recorder’s office. “We’re looking to hopefully get this settled soon and fairly. We’ve tried to be fair, but they don’t want to be fair.”

Tramel said she was most worried about insurance and pay.

“If they raise the insurance, I can’t pay for it with the low wages,” she said.

Kathy Henderson, who has worked in the circuit court clerk’s office for 10 years, said county employees do the “hard, thankless” jobs of government service.

“The court system would grind to a halt without the work of my co-workers or myself,” she said.

Joanne Crowder, a registered nurse at the county-owned Sunny Hill Nursing Home, said employees want respect because county officials “don’t respect what we do.”

The county wants employees to pay more for medical insurance, the cost of which increased by $4 million last year. County workers pay 1 percent of their annual salary for individual coverage and 2 percent for family coverage.

That means a dietary aide with a starting salary of $22,613 pays $226 a year for individual coverage and $452 a year for family coverage. Correctional officers at the top of their pay scale earn $68,391 and pay $683 a year for individual coverage and $1,367 for family coverage, according to county figures.

AFSCME Local 1028 covers a wide range of employees, including assistant state’s attorneys, civilians in the sheriff’s office and employees who work for the county executive, coroner, recorder of deeds, assessor, circuit court clerk, county clerk, Sunny Hill Nursing Home, health department and chief judge’s office.

The county has a total of 15 union contracts, but seven fall under Local 1028’s umbrella. All of the contracts are up. Because Local 1028 is the county’s largest union, what happens with its members often sets the tone for the pay and benefits of the other union and nonunion employees.

Delrose said union members are willing to pay more for insurance but also want raises, something they haven’t had in four years.

“There’s no reason our members should be working for less going forward,” he said. “It’s about finding the balance between fair wages and insurance.”

Every 1 percent raise for employees costs the county an estimated $1.2 million, according to county finance director Paul Rafac.

The two sides will meet again with a federal mediator on Friday.

“We’re going to try to stay at this as long as we can to get a deal done,” Delrose said. “But we’re also prepared to do what we need to do if the county says, ‘we’re done.’”

While Local 1028 members have given their officers the power to call a strike vote, no vote has been taken yet.



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