Will County’s biggest employee union on Tuesday filed unfair labor practice charges against Will County Executive Larry Walsh for allegedly threatening to replace employees who go on strike.
“You have an employer behaving in a very hostile manner,” said Anders Lindall, a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, which includes Will County’s Local 1028.
Walsh sent a letter to workers last week as contract talks came to a halt and county officials said they had made their “best and final” offer. In the letter, Walsh informs employees they could be “temporarily replaced” during a strike and some could “lose their jobs forever” if permanent replacements were hired.
Also, Walsh wrote that workers who strike cannot remain on the county’s health insurance plan at current group rates but would be eligible for higher rates under the federal law known as COBRA.
Lindall said two unfair labor practice charges were filed with the Illinois Labor Relations Board regarding Walsh’s statements that workers could be replaced and denied health insurance at current rates. The union also is asking the labor relations board to force the county to continue negotiating.
“We want to reach an agreement at the table,” Lindall said.
Walsh’s letter was an attempt to “scare and intimidate” employees, Local 1028 president Dave Delrose wrote in an Oct. 24 response to Walsh.
“Unfortunately, your letter has made the possibility of reaching a settlement without a strike less likely,” Delrose says in the letter.
Delrose also chastised Walsh, “a public official who claims to be a friend of labor,” for saying employees would lose their jobs.
Nick Palmer, Walsh’s chief of staff, said the county is following labor law.
“We don’t believe that we’ve committed the unfair labor practices they allege,” he said. “We presented our last and final offer, they had an opportunity to counter and they chose not to offer a counter.”
As to workers being permanently replaced, “it’s not a threat. It’s true,” Palmer said. “We’ve got to provide county services. It’s provided for in the law that you can do that.”
Tuesday’s action by the union is the latest salvo in deteriorating labor negotiations between the county and about 1,260 members of Local 1028. Union members have given their bargaining committee the power to call a strike at any time.
The two sides have been negotiating for 14 months to replace seven union contracts that expired Dec. 1. The biggest issues are pay raises and health insurance costs. The union wants bigger raises for workers who have gone without one for four years, and the county wants employees to chip in more for rising medical insurance costs.
Local 1028 covers employees in the county court system, health department, highway department, Sunny Hill Nursing Home and county jail and the offices of the sheriff, coroner, recorder, assessor, clerk, county executive and state’s attorney.