AFSCME Local 1028, the union that represents Will County employees, will meet with county representatives Tuesday in a bargaining session requested by a federal mediator.
The two sides had been at a stalemate, with the union announcing Thursday that it intended to end its contract with the county if the situation did not change, opening the door to a strike, and the county responding that it was preparing for the possibility that employees would walk out.
Original post/11:30 a.m. Friday:
Officials for AFSCME Council 31/Local 28, which represents Will County's unionized employees, sent a letter to Will County Executive Larry Walsh Thursday announcing their intent to end their contract with the county if the county does not return to the bargaining table. It is a procedural step required in advance of a potential strike.
In response, Walsh sent a letter today announcing the county's response and plans in case of a strike.
You can read the statements from both parties here:
Statement from County Executive Larry Walsh:
Will County Executive Larry Walsh today expressed his extreme disappointment in AFSCME Council 31/Local 1028 notice to Will County of their desire to terminate their Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The County and AFSCME have been negotiating for a successor contract for over a year. Both parties have been working under the terms of the expired contract during the period of negotiations. AFSCME’s notice to terminate their contract is a required step before their members can walk out and strike. The notice stated in part, “The Union is serving notice of its intent to terminate the collective bargaining agreement, including all contractual provisions that would otherwise restrict employees’ right to strike, effective November 13, 2013.”“I find it very unfortunate that members of Local 1028 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees have decided to take this action,” said Walsh. “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.”
Bruce Tidwell, Director of the County’s Human Resources Department, explained that the union’s rank-and-file employees previously approved a strike vote, giving their leaders the authority to take the next step of actually giving the County a 10-day notice to terminate their contract. The union must also provide the County with an official strike notice at least 5 days prior to engaging in an authorized strike. Today’s notice by AFSCME Local 1028 follows several months of negotiations with a Federal mediator which saw little movement by the Union to reach a compromise.
“I have a responsibility to all the residents and taxpayers of Will County,” said Executive Walsh. “There is only so much money for the County’s many needs. We must not only address our employee’s salaries and benefits requests, but also invest in critical infrastructure projects that benefit all our residents. We have a responsibility to be good stewards of the revenues that come into the county. That means not letting our buildings fall into further disrepair or failing to make investments for the future.”
While the union, in this case roughly 1,300 of the County’s 2,300 employees, can strike on the 6th day after filing a strike notice, it doesn’t have to, Tidwell explained. The union could strike on the 15th day, the 30th – or never.
AFSCME-represented employees work in the offices of Animal Control, Circuit Clerk, Coroner, County Clerk, Executive Department, Health Department, Highway Department, Land Use Department, Recorder of Deeds, Sheriff’s civilian employees, State’s Attorney clerical staff, Sunny Hill Nursing Home of Will County, Supervisor of Assessments, and departments under the Chief Judge.
Wages and benefits
Local 1028 members have been working without a new contract since the old one expired on Nov. 30, 2012. Both sides have been meeting to hammer out a new agreement, but have not been able to find common ground on two issues – wages and insurance.
“We have made significant movement at the bargaining table in regards to both,” said Tidwell. “At some point it becomes unsustainable for the county to continue to assume more and more of the cost of the healthcare costs. The County has asked for a reasonable increased contribution of all our employees so that we can continue to provide a very robust benefits package.”
The County’s healthcare bill for the current fiscal year is $36 million and is expected to increase to $40 million next year. Currently for health insurance, all County employees pay 1 percent of their salaries for single coverage and 2 percent for family coverage. Under the County’s proposal, which was approved by the County Board at its September meeting for non-union personnel, elected officials and retirees, employees will pay a percentage of the premium cost as opposed to their salaries.
Instead of two coverage tiers of single and family, there are four tiers: employee; employee plus spouse; employee plus children for single parents or those whose spouse is covered under his/her own plan; and employee plus family, which includes spouse and children. Children are covered up to age 26.
The new plan calls for employees to cover an aggregate of 10 percent of the cost of their health care coverage. It goes into effect Jan. 1 for non-union employees, elected officials and retirees.
Broken down into wage classifications, employees making up to $30,000 a year will pay 4.7 percent of the cost of their premiums, those making between $30,000 and $50,000 will pay 7.6 percent, and those who earn more than $50,000 will pay 13.2 percent of the insurance cost.
“We’re still looking out for our employees with this change,” said Executive Walsh. “Those who make the most will still pay the most.”
Tidwell said, “We are the only employers in our comparable peer group who look at ability to pay,” said Tidwell. The County looks at DuPage, Kane, Lake and Winnebago counties when bargaining.
“Those are historically the comparable counties for interest arbitration,” said Tidwell. Interest arbitration is used to settle disputes between management and deputies and correction officers, who cannot strike, meaning the comparisons have “already been legally established.”
The County also uses published survey data on the Central part of the country, similar size employers, and all public administration groups as provided by Aon Hewitt, one of the largest consulting firms in the nation.
“This is not a concessionary contract,” Tidwell said. The union contract still includes step increases, which when coupled with the cost-of-living increases on the table, would still have members taking home more money than before except for the possibility of a few rare instances.
Strike preparations made
Elected officials and department heads have been working on contingency plans for months to ensure that County services will continue if there is a strike, said Tidwell.“The County will continue to provide essential services,” he said. Wait times for other services may increase or be postponed, and some offerings, such as the County Clerk’s Saturday morning hours or others provided outside the regular work day may have to be cancelled.
Sheriff Paul Kaupas has been part of the strike preparation meetings and has assured them that his sworn officers will continue to provide services even if his civilian workers walk off the job.
Departments are prepared to fill in the labor gap with a combination of temporary workers, agencies and through agreements with townships and municipalities, as well as with non-union staff. All will be “qualified, certified personnel” in the areas they work in, Tidwell assured.
Statement from Joe Pluger, AFSCME Local 128 representative and accompanying letter sent to county officials:
The union representing Will County employees, AFSCME Local 1028, again urged county management to seek a fair contract settlement at the bargaining table, but notified the county of its intent to terminate the existing contract, a procedural step required in advance of a potential strike.
The legal notice came in a letter sent today (Thursday) to all county employers, in which the union noted 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,” the union wrote. “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 then informed the county of the union’s intent to terminate the existing contract effective Nov. 13.
The letter made clear that a strike is avoidable if county officials return to bargaining with new proposals that offer workers fair pay and affordable health care.“It remains the union’s hope that responsible county officials will step forward to avert a looming crisis,” the AFSCME letter concluded.
Actual letter sent to county officials:
As you are aware, AFSCME and Will County have been negotiating over the terms of a new collective bargaining agreement for 15 months. The Parties have had a long relationship over many decades of collective bargaining. When the County was faced with a difficult economic situation due to the great 2008 recession, Will County employees agreed to a four year contract without any cost of living increases.
Now the economy is recovering. Regrettably, 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. 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.
It remains the Union's hope that responsible County officials will step forward to avert a looming crisis.
Unfortunately, we have thus far seen few signs that the County is prepared to change its approach.
The Union is serving notice of its intent to terminate the collective bargaining agreement, including all contractual provisions that would otherwise restrict employees' right to strike, effective November 13, 2013.
AFSCME Council 31