1,500 Cook County health care, sheriff’s employees walk off the job for one-day strike

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Stroger Hospital | Sun-Times file

The planned strike came after union members were unable to come to an agreement with the county over pandemic pay and safer working conditions.

More than 1,500 employees of Cook County’s health care and sheriff’s departments walked off the job Tuesday morning after their union was unable to come to an agreement with the county over pandemic pay and working conditions.

Outside of Stroger Hospital, chants of workers demanding hazard pay nearly drowned out Joseph Richert, SEIU Local 73 secretary treasurer, as he said it is unconscionable that 10 months into a global pandemic that union members were still demanding proper protective gear.

“This is crazy and the county needs to act now,” Richert said.

In a statement Friday, SEIU Local 73 — the union representing county health technicians, service and maintenance workers, and sheriff’s office employees — alleged the county has refused to bargain in good faith for nearly three months, walking out on negotiations, canceling dates or refusing to set them. County officials did not respond to requests for comment.

The workers are demanding pandemic pay for essential frontline workers — with a $5 per hour raise for those in COVID-19 units or taking care of coronavirus patients — and stipulations for PPE and social distancing, including allowing employees to work remotely when possible.

The union also wants 48 workers who lost their jobs when the Recorder of Deeds office was merged with the County Clerk’s office to be given jobs as contact tracers.

“We are no longer in the business of taking what you give us, we are taking what we want,” said Jeffery Howard, SEIU Local 73 executive vice president.

The union claims Cook County has brought in strikebreakers from high-risk COVID-19 states endangering workers’ and patients’ lives.

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December 22, 2020 at 07:41AM

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