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AFSCME strike slows Will County government

Will County workers went strike 11/18/13 began picketing Will County Courthouse Monday.  |  John Booz~For Sun-Times Media

Will County workers went on strike on 11/18/13 and began picketing the Will County Courthouse on Monday. | John Booz~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 21, 2013 6:22AM



A strike by Will County government’s union workers has closed two satellite offices and slowed down work at the courthouse, officials said on day two of the job action.

“Has it been more difficult? Absolutely,” Chief Judge Richard Schoenstedt said Tuesday morning. “Do we miss the employees? Absolutely. We’d love to have them back.”

Schoenstedt said the courthouse is “limping along” without the workers, but judges are updating case files on their own and the work is getting done. Schoenstedt said the court cases will start to back up if the strike lasts a long time.

“I hope we’re talking about days and not weeks,” he said.

The strike also is disrupting package deliveries at county buildings because UPS drivers are honoring the picket lines, officials said.

“Our drivers (and all Teamsters) have the right to honor striking workers at their place of work,” UPS spokesman Dan McMackin said in an email. “We have the right to make alternate delivery options available for that customer.”

Members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1028 walked off the job Monday morning after 15 months of negotiations failed to produce a new contract.

About 1,000 of 1,260 AFSCME workers are eligible to strike. Local 1028 President Dave Delrose said about 90 percent were participating in the strike and walking picket lines at 24 different county government office sites.

Bruce Tidwell, the county’s human resources director, said 70 percent of AFSCME workers are on strike and 30 percent reported for work.

Delrose said the mood on the picket lines is upbeat.

“Our members are very motivated,” he said. “They’re in very good spirits and they understand and know why they’re out (on strike).”

Delrose said workers have stopped picketing satellite health department offices in University Park and Bolingbrook because the offices have closed due to the strike.

“We’re hoping the county realizes this isn’t worth a strike and they need to get back to the bargaining table so they need to contact the (federal) mediators,” Delrose said.

Nick Palmer, chief of staff for Larry Walsh, said there were reports of picketers pounding on cars and jumping on a vendor truck at the county owned Sunny Hill Nursing Home. County officials planned to review security tape to see what happened, Palmer said.

“That is not acceptable,” Palmer said. “The cops have been out there all morning.”

Tidwell said police were called by a Local 1028 worker who says a union contractor working on Sunny Hill touched her face when he was showing her a piece of paper that prevents his union from honoring another union’s picket line while working on renovations at the nursing home. There were no charges filed, Tidwell said.

Joliet Police Chief Brian Benton said no punches were thrown and both sides just wanted the incident documented.

“Obviously emotions are high on both sides and we’re doing our best to maintain order in the area,” he added.

The two sides cannot agree on cost-of-living adjustment raises or health insurance premium payments for workers. Negotiations stopped at 1 a.m. Friday.

The county has offered 4.5 percent COLA raises phased in over three years to Local 1028 employees, who have not had a COLA raise in four years. The COLA raises would come on top of 2.5 percent “step” increases workers get automatically for additional years of employment. Insurance payments would double for many employees as they shift from paying a flat percent of salary for coverage to paying about 10 percent of premium costs.

County board Speaker Herb Brooks Jr. said he’s been working the phone every day trying to get union and county negotiators back to the table.

“We’re in the second day of a strike and it’s got to come to an end,” he said.

Brooks said the county is looking for some “creative financing” to end the strike.

“What we’re trying to do is decide what can we do more of or what can we cut more of,” he said.

Chuck Maher, R-Naperville, the county board’s Republican Whip, said the two parties are united in trying to stay within budget constraints.

“We’re not a business with income-earning potential,” he said. “We’ve really worked hard so nobody would lose their job over the last four years of this economic downturn.”

In a Will County Court hearing on Tuesday, the two sides in the labor dispute submitted an agreed order listing essential employees who should not be allowed to go on strike. Those on the list include 911 dispatchers, deputy coroners, communicable disease investigators, health department sanitarians a jail electrician and a jail locksmith (for emergency work only). The judge approved the order, which will be in effect for the duration of the strike.



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