Will Co. officials prepare for possible strike
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain email@example.com August 29, 2013 9:46PM
Updated: October 2, 2013 6:28AM
Will County elected officials and department heads met Thursday to prepare for a possible strike by the county’s largest employee union.
Nick Palmer, chief of staff for Will County Executive Larry Walsh, described the meeting as an update on contract negotiations, saying “we are optimistic for a positive resolution soon.” But if there is no settlement and the employees strike, “we’re going to do our best to keep county services functioning,” Palmer said.
Thursday’s meeting included discussions on ways to best accomplish that.
A year of labor negotiations has failed to produce a contract for members of Local 1028 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents 1,260 of the county’s 2,300 union and non-union employees.
Union members are concerned because the county is asking employees to pay more for health insurance while offering small pay raises, said Dave Delrose, president of Local 1028. The county was offering no pay hikes until the last negotiating session Aug. 23, when county negotiators came to the table with “a little bit of money,” Delrose said.
In the past, the county has had employees pay 1 percent of their pay for individual health insurance coverage and 2 percent for family coverage.
“They want us to pay a percentage of the premium cost instead of a percentage of our salary,” Delrose said.
That, along with little or no money in pay raises, would mean some employees would take home less in their paychecks, he said.
Palmer said county officials believe the 2.5 percent step raises on the salary schedule that union members have received for the past eight or more years should be considered in the discussion of higher pay.
County workers get those step increases automatically, based on their years of employment, until they reach the top step, Palmer said, and those raises cost the county about $3 million a year.
“To everyone else in the world, that’s a raise,” he said.
The dispute about the step increases “is the fundamental stumbling block” to a settlement, Palmer said.
He said most county employees are not at the top of their salary scale, so they’re still getting more money each year. That’s why the county is sticking to its offer, which is “very fair,” he said
“We’re still not there yet,” he said.
Union members staged a rally Aug. 22 in downtown Joliet that drew about 500 people.
“We had a good rally the day before (negotiations), and our members felt good about what we did that day,” Delrose said. “But we still have a ways to go.”
The next negotiating session with a federal mediator is set for Sept. 9.
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.