Mayor, city workers union announce tentative agreement, averting strike before election

A joint statement from Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Roberta Lynch, executive director of AFSCME Council 31, said the agreement would “improve the economic security and working lives of thousands of dedicated frontline” employees in about a dozen city departments.

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Supporters and workers for the City of Chicago, who are represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), march in a circle during a demonstration at 2 N. La Salle St. in the Loop, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022. The workers are demanding fair wages and a safe working environment according to Susan Littlefield, president of AFSCME Local 2912, who added that they have been bargaining with the City of Chicago for six months now.

Supporters and AFSCME members who work for the city of Chicago picket in the Loop Oct. 27.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Friday announced a tentative agreement with AFSCME Council 31 but refused to disclose the cost or terms of the new contract that averted the threat of a preelection strike by more than 3,000 city workers.

A joint statement from Lightfoot and Roberta Lynch, executive director of AFSCME Council 31, said only that the agreement would “improve the economic security and working lives of thousands of dedicated frontline” employees who hold civilian jobs in the Chicago Police Department, serve as food sanitation inspectors and librarians and serve in roughly a dozen city departments.

“These workers are critically important to our city and impact every major department of city government. We have all worked together diligently to ensure that their efforts to help keep our city moving forward are recognized and valued,” the joint statement said. “Terms of the agreement will be released after union members have the opportunity to review and vote on its ratification.”

Earlier this week, Adrienne Alexander, director of intergovernmental affairs for AFSCME Council 31, sent an email to City Council members warning them about an impending job action after more than 10 months of bargaining that left AFSCME members “very frustrated.”

“We are well past the [June 30, 2022] expiration date of our last contract — and have been proceeding on a series of contract extensions. We have now notified the Lightfoot administration that we will not further extend the current agreement which is set to expire this Saturday, Feb. 25,” Alexander wrote.

During an unrelated City Hall news conference this week, Lightfoot flatly predicted that a strike would be averted.

Last fall, Lightfoot announced the city was expanding its parental leave policy, effective Jan. 1, to allow all 32,000 city employees up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave whether they are the “birthing or non-birthing parent.”

The unprecedented expansion for all city employees evolved from contract talks between the city and AFSCME. But union spokesman Anders Lindall made it clear the rest of the contract had not been negotiated.

A few weeks later, union members set up picket lines outside four city job sites to pressure Lightfoot to deliver the pay hikes, hiring bonuses and retention incentives they say their 3,000 members deserve.

Denise Williams, a homeless services coordinator, was among the protesters.

“My mortgage has gone up $150. The cost of groceries has gone up. Gas prices have gone up. Insurance has gone up. Everything has gone up. If I’m gonna be able to live comfortably or be able to have a decent living, I have to have a decent wage,” she said

AFSCME’s laundry list of demands also included higher entry-level salaries.

“When you’re bringing somebody in on the ground floor, let’s say at $49,000 ... that’s a person with a college degree. They probably have student debt. Trying to attract somebody at $49,000, and there’s only been a 2% increase in the last 20 months? We need to do better,” Lindall said.

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