Hundreds of essential workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic in Cook County hit the picket line for a one-day strike on Tuesday.
SEIU Local 73 - the union representing Cook County health technicians, service and maintenance workers, as well as employees of the clerk’s office and sheriff’s office - said in a statement Friday that its members would be holding a one-day strike, alleging that county officials have "refused to set bargaining dates… and walked out on negotiations" for nearly three months.
“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."
The workers include employees who work at Stroger Hospital as well as Cermak and Provident hospitals that are part of the Cook County Health System.
"We have respiratory therapists and healthcare workers working to save lives," Palmer continued. "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."
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, remote work where possible and personal protective equipment where it isn't, among other items.
A spokesman for Cook County Board President Preckwinkle said in a statement that contingency plans were in place "to ensure services are not disrupted" during the strike.
"Cook County respects the rights of its employees under their Collective Bargaining Agreements but is deeply disappointed that the union would ask some of its members to strike during a global pandemic," the statement reads.
"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/or soon will receive that hazard pay."
A spokesman for the Cook County Sheriff's Office said in a statement that the office "has bargained in good faith with SEIU Local 73 leadership" and referred further questions to the county.
Employees walked off the job at 6 a.m.