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1,500 Cook County health care, sheriff’s employees plan day-long strike for Tuesday

The workers are demanding pandemic pay for essential frontline workers — with a $5 per hour raise for workers in COVID-19 units or those taking care of COVID-19 patients — and stipulations for PPE and social distancing, including remote work when possible.

Emergency room nurse at Stroger Hospital is said to have taken IV equipment and administered IV flushes outside the hospital without physician approval.
Stroger Hospital
Scott Stewart/Sun-Times.

More than 1,500 employees of Cook County’s health care and sheriff’s divisions will go on strike Tuesday if their union can’t hammer out a deal with the county for pandemic pay and safer working conditions, among other demands.

In a statement Friday, SEIU Local 73 — the union representing county health technicians, service and maintenance workers, and sheriff’s office employees — alleges the county has refused to bargain in good faith for nearly three months, walking out on negotiations, canceling dates or refusing to set them altogether.

The union also says the county spent millions in CARES Act funds to fly in strikebreakers from around the country.

A spokesman for Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for the Cook County sheriff’s office maintains they have bargained in good faith and referred further questions to the president’s office.

“We have respiratory therapists and health care workers working to save lives. We have election workers who made sure the presidential election ran smoothly. We have custodians sanitizing courthouses and public offices to keep people safe. We have office workers at the County jail, a hotspot for COVID, coming in every day,” SEIU Local 73 President Dian Palmer said. “The least Preckwinkle could do is respect, protect and pay these essential workers by bargaining in good faith and providing pandemic pay to all essential workers.”

About 1,300 of the roughly 1,600 technicians and service and maintenance workers at Stroger, Cermak and Provident hospitals will be hitting the picket line Tuesday, according to SEIU Local 73 spokesman Eric Bailey.

Court injunctions this week enjoined the other 300 health care workers from striking, along with 92 of the 343 sheriff’s office employees.

The workers are demanding pandemic pay for essential frontline workers — with a $5 per hour raise for those in COVID units or taking care of COVID patients — and stipulations for PPE and social distancing, including allowing employees to work remotely when possible.

The union also wants the 48 workers in the recorder of deeds office whose positions were cut after the office merged with the county clerk’s office be given jobs as contact tracers, among other demands.

Picket lines are planned for 6 a.m. Tuesday outside the county’s three health care centers, with other actions in the works as well, Bailey said, noting that workers will be standing 10 feet apart during the strike.

There are no negotiations planned before the strike, he said.