Cook County and Chicago workers strike at risk of another SEIU surrender


The strike of 2,500 public sector workers in the Chicago area continues into its third week without a public update being made between Local 73 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the Chairman of the Board of County Administration Toni Preckwinkle. The union claimed to “negotiate until the end of the night”, but provided no details.

Striking Cook County, Illinois healthcare workers outside John Stroger Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. [WSWS Media]

The strikers are in direct conflict with the Democratic Party, which has controlled the state of Illinois, Cook County and Chicago for decades, and has implemented austerity policies that have gutted public services and wages of state, county and municipal workers with the support of unions. like the SEIU.

Preckwinkle and Cook County officials are offering county employees an 8.5% four-year hike, a paltry figure that is said to be more than eaten away by inflation. The county also wants to increase health care costs by up to 80% at the expense of strikers.

Janet, a healthcare worker, told the WSWS: “I have worked hand in hand with patients with COVID-19, risking my life and that of my family. She added that she was on strike because “senior leaders think we are not important enough to deserve a raise to cover the increase in our health insurance.” Because we were once called heroes first on stage and now put on hold.

SEIU Local 73, which is allied with the Democratic Party, closed the picket line over the weekend but resumed Monday morning. The union called a meeting on Saturday night with SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry. No details of the negotiations have been released so far despite overwhelming opposition from workers to the Democratic Party’s austerity contract proposals.

Picketing took place in several locations last Tuesday, including Cook County Jail, Stroger and Provident Hospitals and outside Preckwinkle’s office in the County Building in downtown Chicago. On the same day, the SEIU called for a stunt walk in the Hyde Park neighborhood, where Preckwinkle lives, after issuing a supposed ultimatum to settle the contract within 24 hours on July 5.

Most of those who gathered in Hyde Park were Preckwinkle’s closest political allies. The march included a handful of union bureaucrats, many of whom are used to forcing sales contracts on their members, and Democratic Party politicians. This included SEIU Local 73 President Dian Palmer, Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey, and Vice President Stacy Davis Gates, Chicago Federation of Labor Chief of Staff Nora Cay. Ryan, SEIU Local 1 President Thomas Balanoff, Illinois State Representative Lakesia Collins and Chicago Alderman. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, among others.

The two leaders of the CTU – Sharkey and Davis Gates – played the lead role in the betrayal of the Chicago teachers’ strike in 2019 and forced teachers to return to dangerous classrooms at the height of COVID-19 transmissions during the spring semester. Both fully supported Preckwinkle during his run for mayor of Chicago in 2019, providing significant resources to his campaign. Brandon Johnson, a Cook County Board Commissioner and Preckwinkle’s political protege, is on the paid staff of the CTU.

SEIU Local 73 President Dian Palmer and other well-paid union bureaucrats are fully integrated into the Democratic Party machine in Chicago. In 2019, SEIU Local 73, which claims to represent more than 27,000 workers, endorsed Preckwinkle as mayor, as did Local 1 and SEIU Healthcare. In total, SEIU provided $ 3.3 million in campaign contributions to Preckwinkle, much of it in the form of campaign canvassers and other staff. In the 2020 election cycle alone, the SEIU donated nearly $ 28 million to Democratic Party campaigns across the country.

Far from organizing a real fight, the closed-door “negotiations” between the SEIU and county officials are strategy sessions to discuss how best to sell a rotten deal to the workers.

In a note from Cook County obtained by Fear‘s Wednesday, Preckwinkle’s office said its contract offer was “in line with agreements already reached with unions representing more than 50% of unionized workers in the county”. This underscores the treacherous nature of all the other unions that have forced deals with Preckwinkle and isolated the county workers.

A simultaneous one-day strike on June 24 by 900 county nurses was quickly halted by the National Nurses United. Instead of uniting the two sections of workers, their struggles were isolated from each other.

The SEIU follows a well-worn playbook for betraying workers, including the September 2020 walkout of nurses and faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the November 2020 nursing home strike.

Adam, a UIC hospital system construction services worker who went on strike last year, has expressed support for striking Cook County workers. “The hospital was slow to follow through on its termination. We’ve also increased our parking and health insurance so I guess you can tell that’s where our increase has gone. We have the most [health care] deductions versus other jobs, so after deductions we take about 60 to 80 percent of our income. I got more income by working part time without benefits and earning minimum wage. In addition, I could have benefited from health insurance, so the insurance would have been free.

He also spoke out in favor of workers in Cook County. “Keep fighting for a big change. I think they should last as long as possible. Their work is crucial. If Cook County hired temp workers to cover them, it will cost them more, as these new companies collect on the basis of duration rather than hourly.

To defeat the divisive-rule strategy of the SEIU, county workers must mobilize their own independent force by forming a grassroots strike committee, while calling for support from the entire working class throughout the Chicago area.

Cook County workers are not alone in this fight. At the same time, a wave of strikes continued across the United States. Auto workers have been on strike against Volvo in Dublin, Virginia since June 7. Alabama miners have been on strike for four months against Warrior Met Coal. St. Vincent nurses are on strike in Massachusetts. Workers at the Frito-Lay plant in Kansas also went on strike last week.

Workers in Cook County must follow the lead of Volvo workers who have formed their own grassroots committee and are fighting attempts by their union, the United Auto Workers, to force a surrender deal.

The Socialist Equality Party will do everything in its power to facilitate the organization of a grassroots committee among workers in Cook County. We encourage all workers who agree and want to fight for themselves to contact us today.

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