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2,500 Cook County workers look set to strike Friday

Cook County Health nurses also could be on the picket lines Thursday for a one-day strike.

Some 2,500 Cook County employees — including custodians, technicians and administrative staff — could go on strike Friday. County nurses could also hit the picket lines Thursday for a one-day strike. Sun-Times file photo.
Sun-Times Media

Some 2,500 Cook County workers appear to be heading for the picket lines Friday after contract negotiations were canceled Wednesday.

“We have told [Cook County Board President] Toni [Preckwinkle] and the County that we are willing to meet any day, any time to resolve these outstanding issues and settle the contract,” SEIU Local 73 spokesman Eric Bailey said in a statement.

“Since Toni is refusing to meet with us, and the County have provided no new bargaining dates, we can only conclude that they do not take this matter seriously and are not interested in partnering with our members to make Cook County an employer of choice and a provider of choice.”

The union represents custodians, technicians and administrative staff among others. County employees have been bargaining for months and threatening to strike, protesting what they say are inadequate wages and burdensome health premiums.

Separately, Cook County Health has rescheduled some elective procedures and appointments ahead of a possible one-day walkout Thursday by nurses and social workers over staffing levels at Stroger and Provident hospitals.

“Nurses are at a breaking point throughout the Cook County health system,” Consuelo Vargas, an emergency room nurse at Stroger Hospital, said earlier this month. “We need more nurses on staff, and we needed them yesterday. ... We must make this plan part of our contract in writing, as we have been offered empty promises too many times and things do not get better.”

There are about 1,200 county-employed nurses, union representatives said. Registered nurses are represented by the National Nurses Organizing Committee.

“Cook County Health has made arrangements to ensure the continued provision of safe care for our patients,” Cook County Health spokeswoman Alexandra Normington said in a statement.

“We will augment our staffing with skilled agency nurses in priority areas, including our trauma and emergency departments, operating rooms and inpatient units.”

Earlier this month, probation officers, clerical staff and assistant public defender and others took to the streets to protest what they say is a meager pay increase offer from their employer, and one all but erased by a demand to pay higher health insurance premiums.

Workers and their unions say they have been negotiating with Cook County for months — since their contract expired near the end of 2020 — and that those negotiations have reached a standstill. The county is offering about a 1% raise for each of the four years of the contract but is also asking employees to double the percentage they pay toward monthly insurance premiums, workers say.