AFSCME pickets turn up the heat on Lightfoot to deliver new contract

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City workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees are joined by supporters as they march in the Loop Thursday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Members of AFSCME Council 31 picketed four city job sites on Thursday to pressure Mayor Lori Lightfoot to deliver the pay hikes, hiring bonuses and retention incentives they say their 3,000 city members deserve. 

Denise Williams, 53, was among the protesters. 

She’s a 17-year veteran homeless services coordinator charged with engaging and investigating city-funded shelters, responding to complaints and, more recently, scouting emergency shelter locations for the busloads of refugees, migrants and asylum-seekers arriving in Chicago.  

Since January 2021, Williams’ pay has gone up 2% — but in the past 12 months, the Consumer Price Index has gone up 8.2%. The AFSCME contract expired on June 30.

“My mortgage has gone up $150. The cost of groceries has gone up. Gas prices have gone up. Insurance has gone up. Everything has gone up. If I’m gonna be able to live comfortably or be able to have a decent living, I have to have a decent wage. We’re not asking for anything outrageous. But, we have to be able to sustain ourselves and our families,” she said. 

“We feel undervalued. They don’t want to pay us. They don’t want to give us any type of incentive for the work that we do. I don’t think that’s right. We want a fair contract, better working conditions, hazard pay. We want all of that.”

Williams noted she and her colleagues showed up for work every day during the darkest days of the pandemic and were given nothing more than a mask for their efforts. They need hazard pay and retention bonuses. They need parking instead of “fending for ourselves” in neighborhoods dominated by residential permit parking. 

“We can’t park on these streets. We’re fighting a lot of issues. Then to have get here and have to do the work of five people? I mean, cut us a break somewhere,” she said.

“A lot of people are saying, ‘The city is not providing what I need. I’ve got to get it elsewhere.’ So, they’re leaving. We have to make our positions marketable, be able to retain them, give them a fair wage. Nobody wants to be broke and working every day.”

Matthew Sepanik, an architect city of Chicago, marches with other city employees represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees during a demonstration at 2 N. La Salle St. in the Loop on Thursday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Daphne Smith, 52, is a 23-year veteran public health administrator who distributes NARCAN to libraries and community partners to help prevent deaths from opioid abuse. But the five vacancies in her section have made it virtually impossible for her to do her job the way it needs to be done.

She has to provide NARCAN to 81 libraries, “and it’s just me who does that. If we had more staffing that could do that, then I would be able to cover more ground,” she said.

“Sometimes, we do it even off the clock because we want to ensure that places that don’t have access to NARCAN will have it,” she added.

“NARCAN should be everywhere. This initiative should be known throughout the city. The number of opioid overdoses has doubled since 2019. If we can have NARCAN accessible to more people, we might not need as many people to do this initiative.”

Earlier this month, Lightfoot announced the city was expanding its parental leave policy, effective Jan. 1, to allow all 32,000 city employees up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave whether they are the “birthing or non-birthing parent.”

The unprecedented expansion for all city employees evolved from contract talks between the city and AFSCME, whose members hold civilian jobs in the Chicago Police Department, serve as food sanitation inspectors and librarians and serve in roughly a dozen city departments. 

But AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall made it clear when the parental leave agreement was reached that the rest of the contract had not been negotiated.

That became abundantly clear when his members set up picket lines Thursday outside four city job sites: 2 N. LaSalle St.; the DePaul Center; 1615 W. Chicago Ave.; and 2160 W. Ogden.

“When I became a civil servant, I knew I wasn’t gonna get rich. But there’s nothing wrong with … being able to keep gas in my car, food on my table and being able to live in the city that I work for,” Smith said. 

AFSCME’s laundry list of demands also includes higher entry-level salaries.

“When you’re bringing somebody in on the ground floor, let’s say at $49,000 … that’s a person with a college degree. They probably have student debt. Trying to attract somebody at $49,000 and there’s only been a 2% increase in the last 20 months? We need to do better,” Lindall said.

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October 27, 2022 at 05:40PM

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