Union workers walk picket line

Union workers walk picket line

DANVILLE – A steady rain greeted the first day of picketing as probation officers, bailiffs and circuit clerk's office staff went on strike Friday.

The Vermilion County Courthouse workers, represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, voted down the county's modified contract proposal July 21. The county's latest offer included a 9 percent raise over three years with the first year's raise larger than the second and third.

The union's contract expired Nov. 30, and workers also voted down county proposals on Dec. 12 and May 5. The sticking points in negotiations have been salary increases and health insurance.

"The problem with the current proposal is that increased percentages in salary would be eaten up by increases in health insurance premiums," said Don Roesch, probation department union steward.

Roesch said negotiations three years ago added $1,000 to the base salary of clerks and a 3.5 percent increase the second and third years. Probation saw the base salary brought up to $25,000 for anyone under that figure, and a $1,400 increase for anyone at $25,001 or more, plus a little help on insurance.

"If the county could do about the same this year, I think we've got a contract," Roesch said. "People are upset that they had to go on strike to get the county board to do anything. It's up to the county to come back to us now.

"I expect they will. It's just a question of when," he said. "We'll go back to the table Monday if they want to call us."

The picket will continue from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday until a settlement is reached, Roesch said.

"We've been doing all right despite the rain," he said. "People have a party-type spirit I hope will last a while."

The picketers received donations of doughnuts, water, chips, soft drinks and pizza as they continued to walk the Main and Vermilion street sides of the courthouse.

"Businesses, some lawyers and even people from inside the courthouse have brought us food and drinks," Roesch said.

Roesch said the workers were on their own to prepare for the effects of going on strike.

"I've put back everything I could," said Jodi Bullock from Hoopeston, a single mom and clerical employee in the circuit clerk's office. "I started buying school clothes and supplies as soon as school got out. I know it's not going to be enough."

"The county has admitted we're underpaid. I say 'Don't you think you should do something about it?'" Roesch said.

Roesch said presiding Judge Tom Fahey could order the strikers back to work.

"If he does, then the dispute goes to binding arbitration," he said. "Whatever the arbiter decides is final."

Inside the courthouse, Vermilion County Circuit Clerk Susan Miller said her minimal staff was surviving.

"It could have been worse, you just never know," Miller said. "Usually Friday is very busy, but we've just had spurts of business. Monday may be a different story."

State's Attorney Frank Young said felony trials are time-sensitive and will be heard. Juvenile cases will also get priority due to time sensitivity.

"The civil side may be hit more than we are," Young said. "Criminal court will move forward. I imagine some things will evolve as this thing goes along."

Vermilion County Sheriff's deputies were handling entrance security at the courthouse on Friday and will handle courtroom duties, if needed.

No further negotiations are scheduled for over the weekend, said IBEW Local 21 business representative Jim Foster.

You can reach Pat Phillips at (217) 443-8941 or via e-mail at pphillip@news-gazette.com.

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