'Essential' Will County workers ordered back to their jobs

November 21, 2013 (JOLIET, Ill.)

The board ruled on Thursday that some striking Will County employees must return to their jobs. However, hundreds of employees remain on the picket line.

Most members of AFSCME Local 1028 went on strike this week after 15 months of negotiations failed to reach an agreement on pay and health insurance. While some essential workers were ordered back to work, but 700 remain on strike.

AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said the labor board ruled about 30 workers were essential and couldn't strike. They include 911 dispatchers, deputy coroners, communicable disease investigators, health department sanitarians, and a jail electrician and locksmith.

"These workers will continue to support the strike in other ways, such as joining the picket line before and after work," Lindall said. "Correctional officers at the jail who are legally barred from striking are already doing this."

According to Lindall, the strike involves more than half of Will County's workers, including those in the health department, nursing home, highway department, sheriff's office, court system and the jail.

Chief Judge Richard 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," Schoenstedt told the Joliet Herald-News.

Will County human resources director Bruce Tidwell says 70 percent of AFSCME workers are on strike and 30 percent reported for work.

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

The county has offered 4.5 percent cost-of-living increases phased in over three years to union workers. The raise would be in addition to a 2.5 percent increase workers get automatically for years of employment. Insurance payments would increase as workers shift from paying a flat percent of salary for coverage to paying about 10 percent of premium costs.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.

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