Cook County health workers strike to defend pay and conditions

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SEIU Local 73 strikers have been on strike against cuts to their pay and conditions since last Friday

THOUSANDS of health workers in Cook County, Illinois, are continuing strike action against attacks on their pay and conditions.

Meanwhile 100 Illinois librarians have formed a union in Maine in order to fight against jobs, funding and programme cuts.
The Cook County health workers, represented by SEIU Local 73, began picketing multiple locations across the County last Friday as their strike for a fair contract began at 6am that morning.
Last Thursday, Toni Preckwinkle’s negotiators walked out on bargaining and have refused to come back to the table.
Labour leaders and public officials rallied with the workers at Stroger Hospital last Saturday.
‘We are here to send a message loud and clear to President Preckwinkle. If you are concerned at all about your legacy, then do what is right! There is never a bad time to do what is right,’ said Dian Palmer, President of Local 73.
‘These workers have shown up to make this County work. We are going to stay on this line until we get a fair contract. There ain’t no stopping us now!’
‘I’m here to fight,’ said Sylvia Kizer, Environmental Services Worker at Stroger Hospital.
‘They’re doubling our health insurance – forcing me to choose between paying for my healthcare or putting food on my table – hat’s not right!’
‘You are the reason we are surviving right now and you deserve to see that in your paycheck,’ said State Rep. Lakesia Collins (D-9).
‘As the state representative of this district and a former nursing home worker, I am standing with you until you get everything that you deserve.’
‘My union which represents nursing home workers, hospital workers, home and childcare workers are standing strong with you today to say when we fight we win,’ said Greg Kelley, President of SEIU HCII.
‘We provide critical services throughout the County,’ said Joyce Klein, Social Worker at Stroger Hospital.
‘We have been continually disrespected by Toni Preckwinkle so we will continue to fight for the contract we deserve. Because we deserve better than this!’
‘On behalf of our 50,000 members, we stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers at Local 73,’ said Tom Balanoff, President of SEIU Local 1.
‘I want to send a message to Toni Preckwinkle, you better come back to the bargaining table now, because if you don’t, I want you to hear this loud and clear, as long as these workers are on strike we’re standing with them!’
Cook County workers were striking at Stroger Hospital from 8am to Noon on Saturday, June 26, with a rally with community organisations supporting the workers at 11am.
Local 73 Cook County workers will continue to remain on strike until Toni Preckwinkle returns to the bargaining table and a fair contract has been reached, the union said.
A union statement issued last Friday said: ‘Yesterday, SEIU Local 73 bargained with the County until 2am. County President Preckwinkle’s negotiators offered:

  • No money for equal pay for equal work.
  • No money to reward long-term workers.
  • No money for raises for the lowest-paid workers like housekeeping, custodians, food service, and material management.
  • Charging us more for our health insurance and cutting our benefits at the same time.
  • No raises to cover the health insurance increase which amounts to a pay cut for all workers.

‘Their offer creates problems and offers no solutions. We cannot let this continued disrespect stand.
‘They are charging us more for our health insurance and cut our benefits at the same time. And they didn’t offer raises to cover the health insurance increase which amounts to a pay cut for all workers,’ said Dian Palmer, President of Local 73.
‘Their offer creates problems and offers no solutions. We cannot let this continued disrespect stand.’
‘That’s a pay cut plain and simple,’ said Sylvia Kizer, Building Service Worker at Stroger. ‘They are forcing us to choose between putting food on our tables and keeping our healthcare.
‘We are the lowest-paid workers in the County and President Preckwinkle is sitting on $1 billion from the Federal Government. Shame on her!’
‘We will continue to strike across the County until we secure a fair contract for these essential workers who kept Cook County functioning before and throughout the pandemic,’ added Palmer.
‘We are prepared to return to the bargaining table tomorrow and work to reach an agreement that recognises the longevity and commitment of every worker.’
Workers continue striking this week.

  • Employees of the Niles-Maine District Library in Illinois have decided to form a union through AFSCME Council 31.

Nearly 100 librarians, patron support staff and other library workers will be part of the new union once it is established.
They recently filed a majority-interest petition with the local panel of the Illinois Labor Relations Board.
Niles library workers are coming together in the wake of cuts to funding, staff and programmes threatened by newly elected members of the library board, who are engulfed in controversy over giving a $100-an-hour contract to a political supporter.
‘The staff at the Niles-Maine District Library have spent decades working with different board leadership to maintain a valuable community space and resource,’ librarian Rachel Colias said last Monday.
‘But,’ she continued, ‘within just a few weeks, this new board majority has made it obvious that they do not understand the functions of a public library and have no interest in learning them.
‘Once we realised we weren’t being offered a seat at the table, we pulled up our own with AFSCME.
‘The people who work here have invested too much in this library to be so easily dismissed, and we hope to work as a union to protect our ability to serve anyone who relies on us.’
A broad coalition of community leaders led by Rep. Jan Schakowsky signed an open letter to the board, supporting the employees and opposing cuts to library services and staff.
‘We are proud that the Niles-Maine District Library provides valuable services to our community, and we are dedicated to ensuring that those vital services continue,’ the letter said.
The leaders faulted the new board for proposing ‘cuts to library hours, programmes, and outreach services,’ ‘sharply increasing employees’ portion of health insurance premiums’ and ‘hiring a videographer with political ties to board members and no experience auditing libraries as a consultant at the rate of $100/hour with no cap.’
In addition to Schakowsky, state and local elected officials and representatives of labour and education signed the letter.
Among them were AFSCME Local 2953 Village of Niles President Mark Blickhahn and Vice President John Montejo, and AFSCME Local 3891 City of Des Plaines President Erik Heiker and Executive Board member Laura Mendez.
‘My co-workers and I have invaluable insight into what we need to do our work effectively,’ librarian Cate Levinson said.
‘Our organisational knowledge is deep; we know this place and we’ve made our careers here.
‘This community loves the library, and they know the people who work here love it, too.
‘I believe the library and the community it serves will benefit from the work we will do together as members of AFSCME.’
AFSCME is the largest union of public-service workers in Illinois and represents thousands of library employees throughout the state.
The effort to empower Niles library workers is part of a broader national campaign to bring employees at museums, libraries, zoos, planetariums and other cultural institutions into the AFSCME fold.
Cultural Workers United (CWU) AFSCME is the first major campaign around cultural workers in the labour movement.
Representing over 25,000 library workers in more than 350 public and private libraries, CWU’s goal is to raise the standards for equity and transparency in the cultural sector.