2,500 Cook County employees go on strike to demand better pay, health care premiums

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Around 2,500 Cook County employees began picketing just after 9 a.m. Friday after a weather delay.

Another labor strike will take place after nurses went on a strike Thursday. Custodians, technicians and administrative staff are walking out over what they said are inadequate wages and burdensome health premiums.

The Service Employees International Union employees work in offices work in offices under the Cook County president, in the county clerk's office, in civilian positions in the sheriff's office and Cook County Health.

"My slogan today is, "We are one. We laugh together, we cry together, we fight together. We are one. Together, we will win this battle. We need a fair contract for all of us, we love together," said Adrian Hinton, SEIU steward.

They are prepared to walk the picket lines for as long as it takes.

"Our biggest concerns are around wages, but more than that, health care premiums, which they're trying to double for many workers here at the county who have worked throughout the entire pandemic," said Joyce Klein, Stroger Hospital social worker.

Housekeeper Sylvia Kizer has worked at Stroger Hospital for almost three decades. She caught COVID-19 from her ward twice and said no deal makes her feel stepped on.

"This makes me feel very disrespected because I'm not asking you to give me something I want. I'm asking you to give me and my co-workers something we worked for," Kizer said.
More than 1,400 of the workers are part of Cook County Health, working at Stroger and Provident hospitals, clinics and mental health services at Cermak.

Roy Chavadiyil is a cath lab technologist who has been on call for over a month.

"Whenever they call, you have to here within 30 minutes. Then, you are coming and next day, you are working, so you are sleep deprived," Chavadiyil said.

There were 1,200 Cook County Health nurses that went on a one-day strike after dealing with under-staffing as well. This separate strike echoed their concern and how they believe it translate to patients.

"I think so much of it has to do with the delays people see when you're waiting for months to get an MRI because the clinic isn't staffed, or when you're waiting for months to see your specialist or you're waiting for hours when you come to see your providers," Klein said.

Cook County said they have rescheduled some nonurgent appointments and procedures that have scheduled for Friday. They added that they are dedicated to meeting the needs of those they serve.

In a statement, SEIU Local 73 said, "Toni Preckwinkle is offering no solutions to better staff our hospitals and clinics, support long-term workers across the Clerk's office, the Sheriff's office or her own officer. She is not even offering pandemic pay even though the federal government is paying for it."

"I'm hopeful the strike will conclude quickly and we can get back to bargaining," said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

Preckwinkle did not comment about any of the issues. Meanwhile, it remains unclear how long the strike could last. The union said there are no bargaining sessions scheduled.

Statement from SEIU regarding the strike:

"At 6:00 am, Cook County workers went on strike. The union has decided due to severe thunderstorms to delay picketing until 11am.

County President Toni Preckwinkle and her team strung SEIU 73 frontline essential workers along yesterday for around ten hours with no serious intention to settle the contract. They made no proposal to the union on economics.

'She has turned her back on essential workers who risked their lives and their families lives during the pandemic,' said Dian Palmer, President of Local 73. 'It appears that she is punishing Local 73 members for standing up for themselves, their families, and their community.'

'Toni Preckwinkle could come to the negotiations and settle the contract. She could show her respect for thousands of frontline workers who were the heroes of the County before and during the pandemic. Toni could come to the table with meaningful wage increases, proposals that respect equal pay for equal work, and agree to affordable health insurance. Instead Toni Preckwinkle is offering no solutions to better staff our hospitals and clinics, support long term workers across the Clerk's Office, the Sheriff's Office or her own office,' said Palmer."
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