Contract talks between Will County officials and union representatives for striking workers ended Monday night without an agreement.
It was the first time both sides have met since county employees went on strike on Nov. 18. County and union officials have been meeting for the past 15 months -- the last five with a federal mediator -- to negotiate a new contract.
Workers went on strike a week ago after two marathon bargaining sessions failed to bring a new contract. Salaries and health benefits continue to be the main sticking points in negotiations.
In a written statement issued this evening, Will County Executive Larry Walsh said he was "disappointed" that union officials were not prepared today to present a counter proposal to the county's last offer.
"After a week of picketing county facilities, and over a week since the last negotiation session broke off, the union was not able to give us a meaningful counter offer and move us toward resolution," Walsh said in the statement.
Workers from various county departments and facilities -- including Sunny Hill Nursing Home, the health department, highway department, Circuit Clerk's Office, County Clerk's Office -- have been picketing county facilities for a week. County employees also packed a county board meeting last week to show support for a "fair contract" and to address the board.
"Our employees are still standing strong," said David Delrose, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1028, which represents more than 1,000 county employees.
"Our employees want to be treated strongly and they've taken a stand to do this until they get a fair contract," Delrose said.
He added that "some progress" was made during Monday's session. Union officials, however, had some questions on one of their health proposals but could not get answers from the county because a health insurance consultant was not present during the talks. Delrose noted that the consultant typically has been present at past negotiation sessions.
"We did not know that their health consultant was not going to be there," he said.
He said the union would have stayed to continue talks but the information they requested was necessary to move forward.
In the county's statement, Walsh said much of the information the union needed could have been requested prior to the negotiation session.
"Because of the union's lack of preparation, the parties were unable to move forward constructively at today's session," Walsh said in the statement. "This type of conduct has been a recurring problem and has led to repeated delays throughout the many months of negotiations. This has to stop if we want to reach an agreement."
Delrose said the union was willing to meet again, but Monday's meeting ended without setting a new date for negotiations.
"We want to get back to the bargaining table as soon as possible," Delrose said.
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