Will County and union officials walked away from the negotiating table with little progress during contract talks last week.
It was the fourth meeting held with a federal mediator to help reach a deal between the county and the union representing about half of the county's employees.
"We expected that the union was willing to make more movement, which would have allowed us to make additional movement," said Bruce Tidwell, director of Will County human resources. He added that union officials made a counter offer during the meeting that provided "little to no" movement on issues such as wages and health insurance.
"We're still way far apart when it comes to wages and benefits," he said.
Both sides did agree to meet with the federal mediator again on Aug. 23.
Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1028 recently voted to give union leaders the authority to call for a strike vote should negotiations break down. Union members also held an informational picket outside of the Will County Building last week just before the July 18 County Board meeting.
"Our union members are united behind the bargaining unit to get a fair contract," said Local 1028 President David Delrose.
Contract negotiations began last September. The contract expired in December and covers employees in the Highway Department, Sunny Hill Nursing Home, Recorder of Deeds Office, Coroner's Office and the County Executive's Office. Both sides began meeting with a federal mediator in late June, Tidwell said.
"We're still in the same place that we were before," Delrose said after Friday's meeting.
Delrose and county officials noted health insurance and wages were the two sticking points of the contract. Delrose said that most union members have received 2.5 percent step increases as they work their way up the pay scale but the wage schedule has not been increased in three years. He added that the average salary for union members is between $37,000 and $40,000 and starting pay is around $23,000 for some members.
County officials, however, have argued employees have seen their wages increase through the years with the 2.5 percent step increase and that the county is trying to balance employee salaries with other financial needs in the county such as road and building projects.
"Will County is a great place to work and we want to treat our employees respectfully and give them a decent living," said Will County Executive Larry Walsh.
He told board members he thought the negotiations "were close" and commented later that he "firmly believed" negotiations would progress and employees would not strike.
County officials, however are preparing for the possibility of a strike. Department heads and managers have been meeting to devise a strike plan.