Union members picket Walsh fundraiser in Chicago
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain firstname.lastname@example.org November 13, 2013 10:58PM
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1028 employees picket in Chicago outside a fundraiser for Will County Executive Larry Walsh | Supplied photo
Updated: December 15, 2013 11:54AM
Will County Executive Larry Walsh was criticized by union officials Wednesday night after he attended a Chicago fundraiser instead of staying in Joliet where contract talks resumed to try to avert a strike by county employees.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1028 had planned to strike Wednesday after negotiations broke down last week, but the AFSCME bargaining committee agreed Saturday to resume negotiations with a federal mediator. The new strike date is Monday.
Local 1028 members said they were unhappy that Walsh attended his $250-a-plate fundraiser at Luxbar in Chicago during the new negotiating session and that the Elwood Democrat was in Springfield on Nov. 5 when the talks broke down.
“In most contract negotiations, the chief executive is the party responsible for directing the employer’s negotiating committee — and in virtually all instances in which that kind of leadership is exercised, our union has been able to reach contract settlements without resorting to a work stoppage,” AFSCME staff representative Joe Pluger wrote in a letter to Walsh.
In the letter, Pluger also said it seems county negotiators are taking direction instead from a county board committee that meets “infrequently.”
“Negotiating collective bargaining agreements is clearly the duty and responsibility of the county executive,” Pluger stated. “Although the county board has a legitimate role to play, the collective bargaining process cannot work properly unless you carry out your responsibilities as the county executive.”
Pluger urged Walsh to skip his fundraiser, but it appears Walsh attended and the union protested in front of the restaurant, according to Local 1028 president Dave Delrose. Walsh could not be reached Wednesday night for comment. The two sides are trying to agree on a four-year contract and avert a strike by about 1,000 employees in a wide range of county offices including the health and highway departments and Sunny Hill Nursing Home.
“Negotiations are ongoing,” AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said Wednesday afternoon. “We are committed to staying at the table and continuing to work through tomorrow and as long as it is fruitful. We hope the county shares our commitment and makes real movement toward a fair agreement.”
The two main issues left to be resolved involve cost-of-living raises and health insurance costs.
Local 1028 officials say their members have gone without raises for four years and don’t want to pay a lot more for health insurance — double or more in some cases under the county’s proposal.
County officials emphasize that most workers have been getting 2.5 percent raises every year as they advance on the salary scale. And they say county employees should chip in more to help meet rising health insurance costs, as do workers in other counties and in the private sector.
The county is offering a 4.5 percent cost-of-living raise phased in over the next three years, but union representatives said that’s not enough to make up for workers’ higher insurance costs.