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Cook County SEIU strikers stand strong

By Joe Iosbaker |
June 27, 2021
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Cook County strikers.
Cook County strikers. (Fight Back! News/staff)

Chicago, IL - Hundreds of striking members of SEIU Local 73 rallied today, June 26. The rain continued to fall intermittently, sometimes in a downpour, but the festive spirit of the strikers wasn’t extinguished. Even the tornado siren at the end of the rally didn’t dampen their militancy.

Featured speakers included strikers, such as Ericka White, a member of the union’s executive board; and Jim Phipps, a 34-year employee who as a young man had been an organizer with the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee in Mississippi.

Elected officials included Alderman Andre Vasquez, and County Commissioner Alma Anaya. Also present to fire up the crowd was Christel Williams-Hayes, recording secretary of the Chicago Teachers Union.

Frank Chapman of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression praised the strikers, and reminded them, paraphrasing the great abolitionist leader, Frederick Douglass, “We may not win everything we fight for, but we have to fight for everything we win!”

Over and over, speakers repeated the themes of the strike. First of all, most of the 2500 workers have braved the COVID crisis to care for patients. Also, Local 73 members on strike include the clerical workers in the county jail, which never shut down during the pandemic. The jail was infamous as the biggest super spreader of COVID of any jail or prison in the country for the first six months.

Through all of the past 16 months, the workers were denied pandemic pay such as temporary bonuses or raises for frontline workers in hazardous situations. Then, when the contract bargaining began, the bosses offered them pennies, while announcing plans for 80% health care premium increases.

That is all Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is offering the hospital and clinical technicians, physician assistants, social workers, and service and maintenance workers, despite the county having received $1 billion in federal stimulus aid.

Samar Damra, a striking social worker and member of the bargaining committee, told Fight Back! that the social workers were in full support of the strike, and willing to strike until winning their demands.

Picketing began at 8 a.m. and the rally was held at 11 a.m. The main demand of the rally was for Preckwinkle to return to the bargaining table. By the end of the action, Local 73 Executive Vice President Jeffrey Howard announced that a judge had ordered Preckwinkle to return to the bargaining table today. This was met by cheers from the workers.

The strike is open ended, meaning workers will continue on the picket lines until a contract is achieved.