November 22, 2017

Cook County Board votes to lay off hundreds


After months of battling, first over a controversial tax on sweetened beverages, and then over a plan to lay off more than 500 employees, on November 21 the Cook County Board unanimously passed a budget that included 321 layoffs in order to stop the bleeding from a $200 million budget hole. 

The repeal of the sweetened beverage tax all but ensured layoffs would occur as board members refused to seriously consider alternative means of new revenue. But a vigorous grassroots lobbying effort helped to reduce the number of AFSCME members who will be laid off by more than 100.

“The voices of AFSCME members made a big impact,” said Council 31 Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, Adrienne Alexander. “But because so many commissioners were unwilling to support any new revenue, it was impossible to prevent all layoffs.”

More than 60 AFSCME members will be laid off in the plan that board president Toni Preckwinkle called “heartbreaking.” Those AFSCME members affected are primarily in the Office of the Chief Judge and the Health and Hospitals Corporation.

Members of other unions and management personnel will also be laid off in the Chief Judge’s office and the Sheriff’s Office.

A huge loss

AFSCME members crowded the Nov. 21 meeting and pleaded with board members to find a way to prevent the layoffs.

AFSCME Local 3696 member Amy Carioscia, a clerical in the juvenile probation department, will be laid off after her husband was laid off earlier this year. 

“I’ve been at the county for 19.5 years,” she said to the board, crying. “I’ve always been a dedicated employee, but here I am begging for my job. I haven’t slept in days knowing that I would be laid off, and I would just beg you to reconsider.”

“The burden of the county’s massive budget shortfall shouldn’t be borne by frontline workers,” testified Mike Newman,AFSCME Council 31 Deputy Director. “AFSCME members who will lose their jobs are support staff who are often paid the least, but without whom this county cannot function adequately.”

No new revenue

AFSCME members in Cook County were part of a grassroots groundswell that helped temporarily block a repeal of the tax on sweetened beverageswhich was essential to filling the county’s budget gap. But the Cook County board voted to repeal the tax on October 11—with only commissioners Larry Suffredin and Jerry Butler voting against the repeal.

AFSCME members attended public hearings on the budget to insist that those commissioners who led the charge to repeal the soda tax put forward other revenue measures that can avert service cutbacks and layoffs.

Despite the threat of layoffs, Cook County commissioners who repealed the pop tax failed to offer any alternative revenue proposals—except to paint a target on the backs of County employees, demanding that they take furlough days or make economic concessions at the bargaining table.

AFSCME objected strongly to the attempts to make County employees bear the brunt of the budget shortfall. Council 31 Executive Director Lynch wrote a letter to county commissioners urging them to cease targeting employees andprevent as many layoffs as possible.

She called on the commissioners to “reject unfair and unworkable cuts that would harm the county’s vital public services and the dedicated workers who provide them.

She urged the board “to develop responsible solutions that provide the revenue necessary to fund the county government that residents rely on. It is better to delay the budget calendar in order to find a fair solution than to rush into a flawed approach that will hurt Cook County residents, reduce services and scapegoat employees.”

But the budget was enacted as planned.

Negotiations continue

Union contracts for county employees expire on December 31. AFSCME’s bargaining committee, which includes elected representatives from all 15 local unions representing Cook County employees, began negotiating with the county in July. 

No new revenue ideas and impending layoffs will make those negotiations all the more challenging.

“Our Bargaining Committee is firm in its demand for a fair contract. We need new revenue to help us achieve that goal,” Council 31 Regional Director Helen Thornton said.

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