Will County employees took to the picket lines Monday after last week's breakdown of negotiations between county and union officials. .
Nearly 1,000 employees went on strike and many of those picketed outside 26 county facilities to show their unity for a new contract, said officials with American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1028, which represents the workers.
The county and union have clashed over pay and benefits during 15 months of contract negotiations.
"I think it's unfortunate," said Luella Owens, who has worked as a health inspector for six years for the Health Department. "I wish we could come to some type of agreement."
Despite the strike, county officials said business continued as usual Monday. Some satellite offices were closed, including the Health Department's Bolingbrook location. Between temporary workers, management, nonunion staff and the employees who crossed the picket line, county officials said they were able to keep open most offices and facilities.
Lauren Beaulieu, of Plainfield, who visited the Health Department on Monday, said she was not aware of the strike until she arrived for her appointment. She said she did not notice any difference in services.
"I was able to do what needed to be done," she said. "They seemed to pull together."
The strike was expected to include workers at the county-run Sunny Hill Nursing Home, the Health Department, the clerk's office, the Highway Department and civilian staff members from the jail and the sheriff's office.
Last month, county officials made their "best and final" offer to the union. It included a change to benefits that would result in many employees paying nearly double what they pay now for health insurance. County officials included a 2.5 percent pay increase each of the next three years and cost-of-living increases including a 1 percent increase Dec. 1, another 1 percent increase when the contract is approved and a 1 percent increase on Jan. 1, 2015. Employees also would be given a 0.5 percent pay increase July 1, 2015, Jan. 1, 2016, and July 1, 2016.
Employees on the picket line said the county has not provided cost-of-living increases in the last four years. Some noted that because of increasing health care costs, their salaries have remained the same for four years.
Union President David Delrose said county employees also have participated in voluntary furloughs during the economic downturn.
"With this new (proposed) contract, I would be taking home less," said Gabrielle Reyes, an administrative clerk for 20 years with the Health Department. "We're not trying to get much, we're just trying to get a fair contract."
Courtroom clerks marching outside the courthouse noted that despite their years of service, annual salaries barely top $30,000.
County officials said there is no planned meeting with union officials. County officials have maintained that the budget does not allow for higher pay increases and that adding any more benefits or hikes in pay would likely result in layoffs.
"We've consistently compromised with the union, and they haven't been willing to compromise," said Nick Palmer, chief of staff for Will County Executive Larry Walsh. "There's only so much money."