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SEIU Local 73 members at Cook County Health begin strike

By staff |
June 26, 2021
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Striking members of SEIU Local 73 march for a decent contract.
Striking members of SEIU Local 73 march for a decent contract. (Fight Back! News/staff)

Chicago, IL - 2449 members of SEIU Local 73 who work at Cook County Health in Chicago began an open-ended strike on Friday, June 25 at 6 a.m. The SEIU members have been in bargaining with Cook County for over nine months and decided the only way to get the contract they deserve is to fight for it. The facilities that are striking include Stroger and Provident Hospitals; clinics and mental health services at Cermak; Cook County corporate offices and clerk’s office, and the county jail. Members at all of these locations will strike indefinitely until they win a contract that they feel is adequate to return to work.

Union members close to negotiations say that Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and her management bargaining team did not offer any real proposals to solve the issues in bargaining over the last day of meetings and does not appear to be making a real effort to find a solution and settle the contract. They have not made any proposal to the union around economics, despite the workers having risked their lives and the lives of their families during the pandemic. Instead workers say that Preckwinkle is going after their union, along with the National Nurses Union, in bargaining and is attempting to punish them for taking a stand to protect themselves and the community. The actions of Preckwinkle are a large part of what has led the workers to decide that a strike is their best course of action.

They union is asking Preckwinkle to come to negotiations and work to settle the contract by bringing real wage increases, equal pay for equal work and affordable health insurance. The county and Cook County Hospital are forecasting significant revenue increases through the year 2026, which will include $1 billion in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan. Despite the good economic news, Preckwinkle and management’s bargaining team currently have not offered and proposals to improve staffing at the hospitals and clinics or support long term workers in county offices. She is also not offering pandemic pay to the workers, even though the federal government is paying for it.

At the same time as she is not making serious proposals to address these issues, Preckwinkle and her team are instead choosing to spend millions of dollars in federal COVID relief funds to hire replacement workers to function as scabs.

Some of the proposals that the union is fighting for include an increase the steps to reward longevity, appropriate staffing levels, fair raises, equal pay for equal work, hazard and pandemic pay, affordable healthcare and retiree benefits, tuition reimbursement, and pay based on professional experience and years of licensure.

After picketing in the rain in the rain Friday morning, the strikers rallied at 11 a.m., where union Executive Vice President Jeffrey Howard said, “We told CPS [Chicago Public Schools] that Local 73 workers would not take it anymore. They didn’t listen so we went on strike and won. UIC said, ‘We didn’t hear that,’ so we went on strike there and won a fair contract. We said to President Tony Preckwinkle, ‘Respect us, protect us, and pay us!’ and now we’re on strike here.” Howard was recalling two strikes at the Chicago Public Schools and at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) that resulted in real wins for the union members.

Strike lines were happening on Friday, June 25 from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. at both Stroger Hospital and Cook County Jail, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Provident Hospital, along with an 11 a.m. rally at Stroger Hospital. The union says they will announce future strike lines and locations as things go forward and will strike until they win a fair contract.

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