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After 18-day strike Cook County workers win significant improvements

By staff |
July 15, 2021
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Cook County strikers.
Cook County strikers. (Fight Back! News/staff)

Chicago, IL - On July 12, more than 2500 Cook County, Illinois workers who are members of SEIU Local 73 ended an 18-day strike after winning major improvements on key issues. Two issues remained outstanding in the deal but will now move to interest-based arbitration, which only became an option because the workers went on strike.

In the partial tentative agreement, the union members won better pay equity across multiple areas of the county. They also won hazard pay for certain essential workers during the pandemic, and language to prioritize seniority in hiring and promotions from within. These victories will improve equity at the county, where most of the union workers are Black or brown, and most are women. They had been fighting for these type of equity proposals throughout bargaining and the strike.

The union members have been in negotiations for more than ten months and their contract expired on December 1, 2020. The now-ended 18-day strike was the longest strike that Local 73 has ever held and is the longest strike of public sector workers in Chicago in recent history.

The proposals that will go to arbitration now are over raising the bottom of the wage scale and improving longevity pay steps for long-term workers.

Sylvia Kizer who is a building service worker at Stroger Hospital, states “This fight gave us courage, taught us how to fight, and to believe in ourselves. The issue was never about going to work, it was about the conditions we were working in.” She went on to say, “We built solidarity across the county, job titles, education levels, and we became family. I can walk around with my head held high. This is a movement not a moment, and we will never be the same.”

Shadonna Davis is a worker in Cook County Jail and has the following to say, “The strike was a sacrifice that many of us made and it paid off. It’s a shame that Preckwinkle forced us to go out on strike for 18 days when she could have given us the same agreement as the other unions.”

One major sticking point for the union had been that the county recently settled contracts with two other unions that represent Cook County workers yet was not offering comparable contracts to the SEIU-represented workers. Now, by striking, the workers have moved the needle and received a contract offer that comes much closer to those offers and have returned to their jobs having won a major victory.

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