Preckwinkle ‘disappointed’ in SEIU leadership for leading an 18-day strike

“This is the same agreement that our other unions agreed to in June,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “I am grateful that the leadership finally took it, it’s just discouraging to me there’s been a strike for 18 days.”

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Striking SEIU Local 73 Cook County workers march around the Cook County Building at 118 N. Clark St. in the Loop, Tuesday, June 29, 2021.

Cook County workers represented by SEIU Local 73 returned to work Tuesday after an 18-day strike.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said Tuesday she is disappointed in the union leadership that led county workers on an 18-day strike only for them to agree to a contract that has been on the table for several weeks.

Preckwinkle touted her friendly relationship with various labor unions during a virtual news conference but said her relationship with SEIU Local 73 has frayed after it lead one of the longest work stoppages by public workers since 1987.

“This is a deal that was on the table on June 28, essentially the same deal which our other unions got without a strike and lost wages,” Preckwinkle said. “Basically, our SEIU leadership accepted yesterday the deal that had been on the table for two weeks. I’m grateful that our workers are back. I am disappointed, frankly, in our SEIU leadership.”

Preckwinkle said it is going to take time to mend her relationship with the union but hopes it can be done.

Striking county workers returned to their job on Tuesday.

SEIU Local 73 has celebrated the new four-year contract largely as a victory that includes an 8.5% pay increase over that time. The union represents a range of workers throughout county government including custodians and lab technicians at county hospitals and jail social workers.

SEIU Local 73 President Dian Palmer said the county could’ve avoided a strike if Preckwinkle had shown up to the negotiating table.

“President Preckwinkle and her team consistently refused to negotiate with Cook County workers throughout this process — from equitable wages to fair treatment to a basic return to work agreement,” Palmer said. “Without our strike, we would not have won many of the victories in our tentative agreement which address the long-standing issue of treating Local 73 members as second-class citizens compared to other Cook County workers.”

The union said the tentative agreement includes pay raises, bonuses and pay equity. It also has better health care options for workers, hazard pay for working during the pandemic and prioritizing seniority hiring and promotions.

The two sides will enter arbitration on two issues that include raising the wage floor for the lowest-paid county worker and changing anniversary pay raises for the county’s more senior workers, the union and Preckwinkle said.

County workers have been without a contract since December.

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