The Cook County Jail office employees represented by SEIU Local73 joined approximately 1600 Cook County Health workers and staged a one-day strike on Tuesday. The strike included health technicians, service and maintenance workers, and sheriff’s office employees. They walked off the job at 6 AM yesterday, accusing the county of walking out of negotiations, not receiving hazard pay, and working in deplorable and unsafe conditions. Many Cook County sheriff employees say that too many workers have been infected by COVID-19 while doing their jobs.
“Our members have put their lives on the line to keep Cook County functioning,” SEIU Local 73 President Dian Palmer said in a statement. “The complete lack of respect by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and the managers under her supervision is shocking. We have respiratory therapists and healthcare 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. 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.”
For nearly three months, SEIU Local 73 has attempted to bargain with Cook County. The county has allegedly refused to set bargaining dates, canceled bargaining dates, and walked out on negotiations. The union said its members want pandemic pay for essential workers, including an additional $5 an hour for all workers caring for coronavirus patients or in COVID-19 units. They want remote work where possible, and stipulations for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and social distancing for its employees.
“Over 20% of the employees in the office had COVID. There was no thorough cleaning of the office, and no one tells us when someone contracts COVID. It is business as usual, and it could cost lives. We are physically close while working, and there are no plexiglass dividers between us, said an employee of the records office at the Cook County Jail. We have been supplying our PPE. There are not any masks, gloves, or wipes provided. I remember when we ran out of wipes, they cut up the inmates’ bed sheets, doused them in bleach, stored them in a container, and told us to use them in place of disinfectant wipes.”
Workers at the Sheriff’s Office also noted that lieutenants, sergeants, and other officers had received hazard pay. Administrative assistant Amanda Gage-Willis told the Chicago Defender, “We all work in the same office, less than three feet apart, and I don’t understand how they can say that these three unions get hazard pay and then we don’t.”
A spokesman for Cook County President Preckwinkle said in a statement, “Despite our historic fiscal challenges, Cook County, has used CARES funds to offer and provide pandemic pay to employees, including members of SEIU Local 73, in congregate settings as well as those in hospital settings who were directly responsible for controlling, mitigating, or preventing the impact of COVID-19,” the spokesman continued. “Other unions during this time have negotiated hazard pay agreements with the County, and the employees have received and soon will receive that hazard pay.”
Attendance records obtained by the Chicago Defender show that the Cook County sheriff employees are in the same congregate settings as lieutenants, sergeants, and other officers who have received hazard pay. The employees also state that there is retaliation for grievances, and flex time is taken away. The new hires come in with better benefits and are treated better than employees working there for 20 years. An employee also stated that when their shifts are over, they cannot just leave. The employees are dismissed as in a classroom setting. There have also been employees who received write-ups for being one minute late without warning before the write-up.
“They pretty much vengeful and bully us. There is no peer support provided to us.” said one employee
“Our members have put their lives on the line to keep Cook County functioning,” SEIU Local 73 President Dian Palmer said. “The complete lack of respect by Toni Preckwinkle and the managers under her supervision is shocking.”
Kelly Washington is a freelance writer living on the southside of Chicago. You can follow her on social media @ Sunrise and Sugar (Facebook) and @ BlackBFly7 (Twitter).