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Will County employees strike amid contract dispute

BOLINGBROOK – About 1,000 Will County employees have gone on strike Monday, after failing to reach a contract agreement with county administration.

The employees are members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 1028.

The union represents more than 1,200 employees in the county court system, health department, highway department, Sunny Hill Nursing Home, county jail, and in the offices of the sheriff, coroner, recorder, assessor, clerk, chief judge, circuit clerk, executive and state's attorney, according to a news release from the organization.

Union spokesperson Anders Lindall said 250 to 300 employees are unable to go on strike because they are categorized as essential personnel. These include correctional officers at the Will County jail, assistant state's attorneys and 911 dispatchers.

Two Will County offices in Bolingbrook were closed on Monday because of the strike: the Will County Recorder's office and the Will County Health Department.

Nick Palmer, chief of staff for Will County Executive Larry Walsh, said he does not know whether those offices will remain closed.

He said some of the county's satellite offices were closed because the county did not know how many employees would come to work.

Facilities offering the same services remain open in Joliet, he said.

"There is a little delay because we have less staff," he said.

Contract negotiations have been going on for more than 15 months.

Parties on both sides of the dispute said the disagreement is over wage increases and healthcare costs.

"The county has been trying to force employees to accept extreme demands on pay and sharply higher costs for health care," Lindall said.

Lindall said union members, who make an average of $35,000 a year, forwent their cost of living pay increase for the last four years as part of the previous contract.

He said the county's current offer includes a paltry pay increase and healthcare that costs twice as much for employees.

"That's not going to be the basis for a fair agreement," he said.

Palmer said he is not sure what union members consider a fair contract.

He said the proposed pay increase is all the county can afford while still allotting money for projects and services.

He said the previous healthcare plan was unsustainable and the increased cost only seems high because the previous cost was so low.

"Every single one of those people will not take home less money than they took before," he said.

Palmer said the county administration is willing to continue negotiations, as long as the union comes back with a counter proposal.

"They've never told us what they're looking for to resolve this strike," he said.

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