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Will Co. reaches tentative pact with striking AFSCME workers

Extrsigns lean up against tree Tuesday Dec. 3 2013 downtown Joliet as striking Will County government workers man picket lines

Extra signs lean up against a tree on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, in downtown Joliet as striking Will County government workers man picket lines on day 16 of the labor action. | Cindy Cain~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 5, 2014 6:47AM

JOLIET — Will County and union negotiators reached a tentative contract settlement at 2:30 a.m. Wednesday after 16 months of negotiations and a 16-day strike by workers.

Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1028 will return to work starting with the first shift on Thursday, according to a joint press release issued at 4:22 a.m.

No details of the tentative deal will be released until after the ratification vote, which is scheduled for Thursday, according to the release.

The strike began on Nov. 18 after the two sides failed to agree on cost-of-living raises and health insurance payments for about 1,000 workers. About 1,200 workers are in the union and 1,000 were eligible to strike. County officials said about 700 walked off the job and 300 crossed picket lines.

AFSCME represents workers in the court system, health department, highway department, Sunny Hill Nursing Home, county jail, and in the offices of the sheriff, coroner, recorder, assessor, clerk, chief judge, circuit clerk, executive and state’s attorney.

Striking workers continued to picket at about two dozen county buildings as negotiations resumed on Tuesday after the holiday break.

Legal secretary Marie Quarcini, who picketed with four colleagues in front of the state’s attorney’s office, 121 N. Chicago St., said she was optimistic there would be a settlement.

“We think they are fairly close,” she said mid-afternoon. “ ... We all love our jobs, and we’re anxious to get back to them.”

The women said they were not deterred by the length of the strike and they believed in their cause.

“We want fair pay and benefits we can afford,” Quarcini said.

Karen LaBolle said she doesn’t believe union workers are asking for too much, adding that “we just want to be able to afford our health care.”

Most of the union workers get 2.5 percent “step” pay increases each year for additional years of employment. The county had been offering another 4.5 percent cost-of-living raise phased in over three years.

But the biggest sticking point all along involved how workers will pay for health insurance going forward. The county’s offer has them paying a percentage of their premium, roughly 10 percent, instead of a flat 1 to 2 percent of their salaries, as has been past practice. In some cases, the medical insurance payments will double or more.

Even with a tentative settlement in place, State’s Attorney Jim Glasgow wants the Illinois Labor Relations Board to clarify how much input Local 1028 could have in his office, where 52 of 64 assistant state’s attorneys are members of the union.

When an AFSCME official sent Glasgow a letter, telling him that he could not order his assistant prosecutors to do the work of legal secretaries during the strike, Glasgow filed a petition with the state board, asking for a clarification on the issue.

AFSCME representative Anders Lindall said the prosecutors have been Local 1028 members for many years, and it was “outrageous” for Glasgow to force the assistants to do the work of the support staff who were out on strike.

“He should rescind his petition,” Lindall said.

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