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Amid soda-tax war, Teamsters thank Preckwinkle for a good new deal

Monday, August 21, 2017
Crain's Chicago Business
by Greg Hinz

As Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle defends her controversial soda-pop tax as a vital prop for key county programs, one of the county's top unions is bragging about all the good things Preckwinkle is giving its members in a new contract.

In a memo to members, Teamsters Union Local 700, which represents 3,500 guards and other security personnel at the county jail and some staffers in the Clerk of the Circuit Court's office, specifically thanks Preckwinkle for items including a new payment for attending roll call, lifting a cap on use of personal time, a raised uniform allowance and expanded shift differentials, a $1,200-per-person signing bonus and, most notably, a zero percent hike in health care premiums at a time when workers all over the country are being asked to pay more.

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The same letter dings County Sheriff Tom Dart for trying to put limits on use of medical leave time that Dart has asserted is abused and ends up costing taxpayers millions of dollars a year in unnecessary overtime.

Preckwinkle's team "was very fair in how they negotiated with the union and we thank her," says the memo (which you can read in full at the bottom of this post). "The sheriff wanted more items....These things were rejected by the negotiating team."

The 3-year proposed contract could come up for final approval by the County Board in September.

The Teamsters official who wrote the memo, Chief Department of Corrections Steward Mark Robinson, failed to respond to requests for comment over a three-day period. Preckwinkle's office said it generally declines to comment on pending deals, adding only that, "We have taken great care to address the needs of all stakeholders, including the sheriff, and we are confident we will be able to approve an agreement that is a good, responsible deal for everyone, including the taxpayers."

However, it's worth noting that Teamsters Local 700 endorsed passage of the penny-an-ounce tax on sweetened beverages, saying at the time that it would "guarantee job security for hundreds of people that work for Cook County." The levy passed with Preckwinkle casting a tie-breaking vote.

It's also pertinent that Local 700 has been one of Preckwinkle's main campaign donors in recent years, with the Local and an affiliated Teamsters group using the same Park Ridge address giving her campaign fund at least $68,000 since 2014.

In the memo, Robinson is trying to build support for ratification and perhaps exaggerates a bit if only to look good.

The proposed pact includes some things taxpayers may like, with wages frozen the first year and then rising 2 percent across-the-the-board in each in the second and third years. "Step," or experience-based raises, also would be frozen for two years, but then be fully implemented.


Watch Mike Bloomberg's pro-soda tax ad for Cook County

Pop tax drives a potential Preckwinkle challenger

Why the pop tax is necessary: a Crain's op-ed by Preckwinkle

However, the list of items the memo thanks Preckwinkle for providing is considerable: "Shift differential, maximum security differential, increased uniform allowance, roll call yearly bonuses, specialty unit pay for transportation (and other non-routine matters) . . . paid maternity/paid paternity leave, paid fitness for duty, paid FTO time, removal of the 4-day 32-hour cap on personal time, five hour work/lunch guarantee, sick time buyback, changing the sick/comp time from eight hours comp to eight hours paid, me-too short term disability, 0 percent increase in health care premiums for this contract, a $1,200 bonus, $600 of it to be paid this year if we can ratify a contract before September, and a 4 percent in additional increases" in pay, half in 2019 and half in 2020.

Some of those costs could be significant. For instance, after losing two cases in arbitration, Preckwinkle's team offered to give guards 15 minutes extra pay per day if they attend roll call at least 25 percent of the time over a six month period, the memo states and other sources confirm. Some security personnel also won the right to wear shorts in warm-weather months, a second memo from Robinson says, and regarding sick time, "now all you have to do is call and tell them where (you) are so if they want to come for a visit, then they can. Now the employer can no longer complain about abuse."

Potentially the most costly tweaks, though, are changes in family medical leave that Dart wanted but which were not obtained in the proposed contract.

Under current rules, a guard who has been certified as being hurt on the job can take off with pay as much as 12 weeks a year, in increments as small as a single day. That allows workers to mix days in which they worked and days in which they were on medical leave for payroll and overtime purposes. Dart, a Democrat, wanted to ban overtime unless a person actually had worked 80 hours in a two-week payroll period, according to a source close to the matter. But that among other things didn't make it into the proposed contract. And an experimental system in which unused sick time was allowed to be paid in comp time was dropped, with payment from now on only in cash.

Dart's office declined to comment on all of this. But with a mix of medical leave and other unscheduled absences, the jail sometimes has had to scramble to to have adequate personnel on hand. That often results in overtime expenses, which added up to $112,000 last Mother's Day alone, according to Dart's office.

In a recent guest column in Crain's, Preckwinkle argued that the soda tax is needed to pay for health care, criminal-justice and related programs. She concluded, "My pledge to Cook County residents is a government that runs efficiently, and effectively; one that is dedicated to improving services in a transparent and accountable way; and above all else, one that is fiscally responsible. I remain committed to this vision."

Click here to review the contracts



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