Strike authorization leads to new contract approval in southern Illinois

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MEMBERS AND SUPPORTERS of AFSCME Local 2464 show their solidarity at the Jackson County Courhouse in October. - Isaac Smith/The Southern Illinoisan photo

Murphysboro, IL – The 26 members of AFSCME Local 2464, which represents employees of Jackson County in southern Illinois, have won a new contract with raises and affordable health care after unanimously authorizing a strike.

The county has about 61,000 residents and includes the region’s largest city, Carbondale, and Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

In September, the county administrators declared an impasse and walked away from the negotiations, leaving a “final offer” that was worse than the ones they had been discussing, AFSCME reps reported.

The union bargaining team brought the offer to the members, who voted unanimously to reject it and authorize what would have been their first strike.

“We knew that the county’s offer meant that some of our people would be going home with less money than they had now – and we didn’t want to take that,” said Robin Crabtree, a member of the bargaining team.

PREMIUMS WOULD DOUBLE

The county’s offer would have substantially raised the cost of health care by doubling premiums and increasing co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses, all without a pay raise to cover the difference.

“The county was trying to fix their budget problems on our back, but without us,  they have nobody to do these jobs,” said Tammy Ehlers of the bargaining team, which also had Samantha Shepherd and Jill Stokes. “We felt enough was enough. We were nervous about the possibility of a strike, but we couldn’t afford to not do it.”

The day after the union vote, the county agreed to come resume negotiations, overruling its own impasse decision. With the help of a federal mediator, a tentative agreement was reached. The union members ratified the agreement, but the county continued to drag its feet.

The issue was left off the October County Board agenda, so the process could have dragged on another month, but the AFSCME members stood their ground. The union set a strike date and demanded that the board call a special meeting to vote or they would walk off the job.

The County Board arranged the meeting and approved the agreement unanimously. The new four-year contract has annual three percent raises and a modest increase in health insurance premiums, implemented gradually over the four years.

CLOSER TOGETHER

“Fighting for the same thing drew us closer together as a union,” Crabtree said. “If we weren’t in a union, we would have gone home with less pay, higher health insurance premiums and decreased coverage. But we stuck together and fought to ensure we had decent pay and fair health care coverage. We accomplished that together.”

“This experience showed us that we have power,” Ehlers added. “We pushed harder than ever before and we all banded together. We were 100 percent united.”

The story isn’t over, however. A second tentative contract, covering about 30 emergency medical technicians, remains before the County Board awaiting a vote.

Information from AFSCME Council 31.

 

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