June 10, 2015
Cook County commissioners approved Wednesday two new contracts with government worker unions that include average pay increases of about 2.2 percent a year as the board prepares to put together a new budget that could result in a tax hike.
About 2,650 workers represented by Service Employees International Union Local 73 will get raises totaling 10.75 percent over five years. In exchange, the environmental service workers, medical technicians and Health and Hospitals System administrators and janitors will pay an additional 1 percent toward health care.
Board President Toni Preckwinkle claims Cook County is grappling with it’s own economic crisis on June 10, 2015. That’s the same deal that Teamsters Local 700 workers, including circuit court clerks and jail guards, got in separate contracts approved by the board Wednesday and last month.
The only vote against on Wednesday came from Commissioner Tim Schneider of Streamwood, who is Gov. Bruce Rauner’s hand-picked Illinois Republican Party chairman. Rauner is advocating proposals that would cut back on union worker rights, contending that labor organizations are pushing up the overall cost of government.
Afterward, Schneider said he doesn’t discuss such issues with the governor. “It’s just my own personal opinion. … I don’t see the people in private industry getting that,” he said.
Board President Toni Preckwinkle defended the labor pacts, noting that 16 of 17 commissioners voted to approve them. “It’s surely our belief that we came to a fair contract with our employees, and we’re grateful to be able to work this out,” she said.
The new union deals will cost the county an extra $65 million, including $12 million in back pay dating to December 2013, when the last deals expired. County officials said they have the money on hand to cover the back pay, but the raises add to financial pressures as they put together next year’s budget.
Preckwinkle has warned commissioners that crafting a new spending plan will be difficult, largely because of higher debt repayments and possibly having to put more money into employee pension funds. Preckwinkle has declined to say how the money void may be filled.
After the meeting, Preckwinkle said that her proposed legislation to make changes to the county worker pension system was never called for a vote in the Illinois House last month because it had no Republican support, a condition she said House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, wants.
“The problem for us is that every day we don’t get pension reform, we’re a million (dollars) further behind, and we already have a $6.5 billion unfunded pension liability, so we’re going to be looking in the next month to try to figure out what we can do unilaterally to address our difficult financial circumstances brought about by the failure of the legislature to pass pension reform,” Preckwinkle said.
She declined to specify how she might address the pension issue without help from the General Assembly. “Everything is on the table,” said Preckwinkle, sounding a common refrain and adding that she hopes the bill would be part of “a grand bargain to work the state’s financial problems later this summer.”
In other action, Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Chicago, introduced an ordinance that would allow fines ranging from $50 to $500 to be imposed on companies found to have fraudulently used the county’s official seal.
The proposal notes that the seal could be used to give people the false impression that private property tax appeal companies are endorsed by the county. The seal also could be used to gain access to people’s financial information or their homes, the proposal states.
“We also learned it’s pretty common at election time, when people run for office, for either challengers or incumbents to put the seal to sort of give themselves an aura of officiality,” added Garcia, who lost a bid for mayor to Rahm Emanuel in April but remains on the County Board.