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Fierce Unity and Determination Mark Contract Win for Southern Illinois County Workers

Photo Credit: Southern Illinoisan
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By Nell McNamara, AFSCME Council 31 Worth the Fight Workers' Rights Health Care

After unanimously authorizing a strike, members of AFSCME Local 2464 (Council 31), county workers from Southern Illinois’ Jackson County, won a new union contract with fair pay and affordable health care. Their hard-fought victory was the result of unity and a dogged sense of purpose.

In September, the Jackson County administration walked away from negotiations, declaring impasse and—to the shock of Local 2464’s members—putting forward a last, best and final offer that was worse for employees than the proposals already under discussion. 

The workers, who provide critical county services like tax collection, property tax assessments, elections and more, decided to press for a fair agreement.

The county’s deal would have substantially raised the cost of health care for employees, doubling premiums and increasing co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses—without providing a pay raise to cover the difference.

“We knew that the county’s offer meant that some of our people would be going home with less money than they had now,” said Robin Crabtree, a member of the bargaining team. “And we didn’t want to take that.” 

“The county was trying to fix their budget problems on our back, but without us they have nobody to do these jobs,” said Tammy Ehlers, another bargaining team member. “We felt enough was enough. We were nervous about the possibility of a strike, but we couldn’t afford to not do it.”

Ready to strike

Crabtree and Ehlers joined with their fellow bargaining team members Jill Stokes and Samantha Shepherd to put the county’s offer to their fellow members. The membership voted unanimously to reject the offer and authorize a strike for the first time in the local’s history.

The day after the union’s vote, the county agreed to come back to the table. They voted to overrule their impasse decision and the parties resumed negotiations. With the help of a federal mediator, a tentative agreement was reached. The union members ratified the agreement soon after, but the county continued to drag its feet.

Instead of voting on the contract at its October meeting, the issue was left off the agenda and the process could have dragged out another month, but AFSCME members stood their ground. The workers set a strike date and demanded that the board call a special meeting to vote or they would walk off the job. The county arranged a special meeting and—with a strike looming—approved the agreement unanimously.

Winning together

The new four-year contract includes three percent annual pay increases each year and a modest increase in health insurance premiums implemented gradually through the life of the agreement.

Throughout the contract fight, the members of Local 2464 stuck together and never wavered.

“Fighting for the same thing drew us closer together as a union,” Crabtree said. “If we weren’t in a union, we would have gone home with less pay, higher health insurance premiums and decreased coverage. But we stuck together and fought to ensure we had decent pay and fair health care coverage. We accomplished that together.”

“This experience showed us that we have power,” Ehlers agreed. “We pushed harder than ever before and we all banded together. We were 100 percent united.”