A day after hundreds of Cook County Health nurses staged a one-day strike, 2,000 more county workers went on strike Friday after failing to reach a contract agreement with management.
Union leaders accused Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle of turning her back on essential workers who “risked their lives and their families during the pandemic.”
“It appears that she is punishing Local 73 members for standing up for themselves, their families and their community,” Dian Palmer, SEIU Local 73’s president, said in a statement.
The striking workers include custodians, technicians and administrative staff. They have been negotiating for a new contract for months. The sticking points are wages and health insurance premiums. Workers say their demands are not unreasonable, particularly in light of the fact that the county has recently received $1 billion in COVID-19 relief funds.
Preckwinkle told reporters Thursday that she is still in the planning stages of deciding how that money should be spent but that it must be spread to the community beyond simply government workers.
The strike began at 6 a.m. Friday. Because of thunderstorms in the area, workers planned to begin picketing at 11 a.m.
About 900 nurses who work for Cook County Health held a one-day work stoppage Thursday over staffing levels at the county’s hospitals and clinics. Some elective and non-urgent procedures and appointments were rescheduled because of the walkout. Cook County Health said it brought in brought in agency nurses to boost staff in trauma and emergency departments.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said the county is doing the best it can to address nurse shortages.
“I would point out that there was a shortage of nurses in this country prior to the pandemic and, of course, the pandemic has only compounded those shortages. This is a challenge not just for us but across the country,” Preckwinkle said.
The strike Friday is expected to further impact Cook County Health because some of those hitting the picket lines work in its facilities, including housekeeping, food service, medical technologists and physician assistants.