Chicago, IL – Cook County workers in are standing strong after 17 days on strike. The strike by members of SEIU Local 73 took a bitter turn four days after workers walked off the job, when Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle offered three other unions contracts with the wages demanded by SEIU and refused in bargaining to offer SEIU similar terms.
This strike comes after a long and difficult period for many of the county workers who have seen setback after setback from Democrat politicians – who in many cases have run for office using language about opposing racism and representing the people. Before this strike there were other strikes in Chicago in recent years in which the boss at the bargaining table is an elected Democrat, including three by Chicago Teachers Union against former Mayor Rahm Emanuel and current Mayor Lori Lightfoot, as well as strikes by the Illinois Nurses Association and SEIU Local 73 at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), with Governor J.B. Pritzker.
A strong majority of the Cook County union members are Black and Latino. They are striking for a decent contract but also say they are on strike for a new compact with the Democrat politicians demanding that they stop attacking the working class, Black and brown people, and stop attempting at every turn to roll back benefits and wages in county jobs.
More than 100,000 residents of the Chicago area lost their houses in the Great Recession, disproportionately in Black and Latino communities. Since then, public sector jobs, which were long a pathway to stable lives and prosperity, especially for Black workers, have seen workers just breaking even with little or no wage increases.
Friday evening, July 9, a striker vigil was held for those members of Local 73 at County who became ill or died from COVID. Clerical Worker Shadonna Davis reminded the crowd that the county jail was the single worst COVID-19 super spreader of any institution in the U.S. for the first months of the epidemic. Davis herself contracted COVID in the jail and took it home where her family also got sick, and while those at home all survived, her father, a 24-year employee at the jail, contracted COVID at work and died from it.
The Chicago Federation of Labor also had a truck full of boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables for the workers.
Also, in attendance at the vigil were SEIU Local 73 President Dian Palmer, Secretary Treasurer Joe Richert, and Larry Alcoff, who is the lead negotiator for the 2500 striking workers at Cook County. In recent discussions throughout the last week the union and members have recommitted to stay on strike and continue to fight for what is right both in the contract and for the community.
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