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Will Co. employees union closer to strike

Teachers strike picket outside North Shore School District 112 offices HighlPark Oct. 16. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media

Teachers on strike picket outside the North Shore School District 112 offices in Highland Park on Oct. 16. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 2, 2013 12:35PM



Will County government’s largest employees union informed the county on Thursday that it plans to terminate its collective bargaining agreement on Nov. 13, which is step one of two needed before its members can strike.

The union also would have to give the county five days’ notice of its intent to strike, but that date now could be as early as Nov. 13.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1028 urged “responsible county officials” to “step forward to avert a looming crisis” and seek a fair contract at the bargaining table, according to a news release from the union.

In a countering press release, County Executive Larry Walsh expressed his “extreme disappointment” with the union’s action.

“I find it very unfortunate that members of Local 1028 ... have decided to take this action,” he says. “I find it very disappointing that this is the result after over a year’s worth of negotiations. I want all of our Will County residents to know that their safety will be our No. 1 priority, whether it is keeping the county roads drivable or keep critical county services going.”

Walsh also says he has a responsibility to county residents and taxpayers, and there are limited resources for all that needs to be done.

“We must not only address our employee’s salaries and benefits requests but also invest in critical infrastructure projects that benefit all our residents,” he said.

The union’s legal notice came in a letter sent Thursday to all county employers, in which the union points out that “when the county was faced with a difficult economic situation due to the 2008 recession, Will County employees agreed to a four-year contract without any cost-of-living increases.”

But “rather than demonstrate that the sacrifices made by county employees are appreciated and that their work is valued, the county is now demanding further sacrifices far in excess of what any objective observer could term as fair and equitable,” according to the union. “It would appear that some county officials who are hostile to the notion that government should serve its citizens and treat its employees fairly are dictating county bargaining positions.”

The letter makes clear that a strike is avoidable if county officials return to bargaining with new proposals that offer workers fair pay and affordable health care. The two main stumbling blocks to a new contract are pay raises and health insurance premiums.

The county is offering modest raises, but it wants union workers to chip in more for their health insurance premiums, in some cases double. Workers say they need raises so they can afford to pay more for medical insurance and don’t wind up with less take-home pay after going without a cost-of-living raise for four years.

County officials say employees have continued to get 2.5 percent raises on the union pay scale for additional years of service and that should count as a raise.

AFSCME Local 1028 covers 1,260 of the county’s roughly 2,300 union and non-union workers. Only about 1,000 of its members can strike because state law prevents county jail guards from walking off the job.

The county has 15 union contracts that all expired Dec. 1. Seven are with Local 1028, including one that covers 600 workers that fall under the county executive’s office.

Because Local 1028 is the county’s largest union, its contract often sets the terms for pay and benefits that all county workers receive.

If Local 1028 strikes, it would be the biggest labor action in Will County since 780 machinists struck at the Caterpillar plant in Joliet. That strike began May 1, 2012, and lasted for 16 weeks.



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