Former jail workers file suit against Cook Co. Sheriff Tom Dart

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A group of high-ranking Cook County Sheriff's deputies filed a lawsuit against Sheriff Tom Dart. (WLS)

A group of 17 former Cook County jail workers have filed a lawsuit against Sheriff Tom Dart saying they were unfairly laid off. The sheriff's office says budget cuts are to blame.

Seventeen Cook County Sheriff's correctional commanders say they were harassed for years and even experienced retaliation, all for trying to unionize.

All 17 commanders stood together Thursday morning at an office building in the Loop to speak out just after filing a lawsuit against Sheriff Tom Dart.

They allege Dart fired them illegally in December of 2017 because they were trying to form a union. They believe they were targeted for layoffs as a result and the former corrections commanders claim they can't be fired without cause or without charges being brought against them.

They are asking for their jobs back, damages and full pension.

"We're supposed to be revered in law enforcement. We risked our lives. I've bled for that place. I broke bones. I've even fought off a knife attack. Me and a fellow officer had to defend a lieutenant that was trying to be stabbed," said plaintiff Steven Tate.

"We earned our right to wear that uniform and we were done wrong, unjust. The sheriff broke the law," said plaintiff Angela Lewis.

"Almost all of these 17 commanders, were never disciplined for their entire career until after they tried to form a union," said Dana Kurtz, the plaintiffs' attorney.

The sheriff's office released a statement Thursday morning saying, "This lawsuit is the direct result of the dramatic and unreasonable budget cuts imposed by the County Board President on our office. The scope of the cuts - almost $60 million dollars - evidenced a gross misunderstanding of the public safety work and mission of the Sheriff's Office. Prior to these forced cuts being implemented, the Sheriff's Office proposed several operational and organizational changes to County government to maximize county efficiencies and resources that would limit layoffs and job loss. The County responded by rejecting our proposals and demanded actual people and salaries be cut. In addition they criticized our office as having too many layers of supervision and demanded we cut supervisors. We were forced to lay off more than 85 individuals and pledged to return those impacted as positions became available through attrition and as budgetary and operational factors allowed."

But the commanders said they are not management and the original budget did not include them being laid off.

Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle said in a statement. "We cannot comment on the reported litigation because we have not yet been served."

"The Sheriff is wrong, however, in his specific characterizations of the Fiscal Year 2018 budget process. The president and the board of commissioners attempted to work collaboratively with each of the County's 11 separately elected officials to put forward a responsible, balanced budget, as is our obligation. We needed to make spending cuts commensurate with a $200 million budget gap to compensate for lost revenues. Some of the preliminary proposals submitted by the Sheriff's office did not achieve the required savings needed. The board asked each agency, bureau and department to right-size their operations based on nationally recognized span of control ratios so that we could meet our collective fiscal goals-which the Board did, unanimously, when all 17 commissioners voted to approve the budget."

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