December 06, 2021

LaSalle Co. health dept. joins AFSCME

Some 28 employees at the LaSalle County Public Health Department—including nurses, environmental health inspectors, family case managers, and others—have joined AFSCME and won their first union contract.

Lisa Dahl and Eric Pyszka had been friends for a long time. They both worked for LaSalle County, Dahl as an administrative clerk and Pyskza as a health inspector. Lisa had a union—AFSCME Local 978—and Eric didn’t. They ran into each other by coincidence in October 2020 in the holiday aisle at Target.

“I had just been voted in as vice president of my local and Eric was saying it was getting rough at the health department after eight months of a pandemic, and people were miserable,” Dahl said.

“We had to step up because we’re there for public health and public safety and we have to do our jobs,” said Pyszka, who worked for the county for nine years. “But we didn’t know exactly what COVID would require of us, and boy, was it a strain. As time went on, we started feeling used and abused. Burnout was coming quickly because we were working seven days a week and missing our families.”

Pyszka and his co-workers weren’t getting overtime pay while working mandated overtime; instead, they got comp time. But with the demands of their job, no one was able to take that time off.

“We were accumulating hundreds of hours in flex time and weren’t able to use it,” Pyszka said. “We were losing thousands of dollars per employee. That’s not right. When people work, they should be paid for their time and effort; it’s as simple as that.”

Dahl said it was like seeing the union difference side by side.

“Management was forcing people to do work outside their job description, there was unfair treatment, a hostile work environment,” Dahl said. “They desperately needed representation and a seat at the table. By December we had already had our first informational meeting. And surprise: They wanted to unionize.”

“We got the fire started,” Pyszka said. “We started talking to other people and realized we had almost 90% who were going to vote yes. I was really proud of everyone for taking the leap.”

The newly formed bargaining unit filed its petition with the labor board in February 2021 and settled their first union contract in October. The bargaining team won better pay and put fair policies into place to protect employees.

“Moving from a salaried employee to an hourly employee who can earn overtime at time-and-a-half with equitable distribution of those hours is a real game-changer for these employees,” Dahl said. But more than the money, Dahl said the backing of solidarity and a real voice on the job were the biggest wins. “Union representation alone took a huge weight off their shoulders. And they deserve that.” 

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