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Hundreds Of Cook County Workers Stage One-Day Strike, Demanding Pandemic Pay

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Approximately 1,600 Cook County workers are staging a one-day strike on Tuesday, amid a dispute over pandemic pay and working conditions.

The Cook County Health workers, Sheriff's office civilian employees, and Cook County Clerk's office workers represented by SEIU Local 73 walked off the job at 6 a.m., accusing the county of walking out on negotiations.

"Our members have put their lives on the line to keep Cook County functioning," SEIU Local 73 president Dian Palmer said in a statement. "The complete lack of respect by [Cook County Board President] Toni Preckwinkle and the managers under her supervision is shocking. We have respiratory therapists and healthcare workers working to save lives. We have election workers who made sure the presidential election ran smoothly. We have custodians sanitizing courthouses and public offices to keep people safe. We have office workers at the County jail, a hotspot for COVID, coming in every day. The least Preckwinkle could do is respect, protect, and pay these essential workers by bargaining in good faith and providing pandemic pay to all essential workers."

The workers are demanding pandemic pay for all essential frontline workers; allowing remote work where possible, and safe social distancing and PPE when it isn't; extra pay for health workers in COVID units or treating COVID patients; and more. They also want the county to provide contact tracer jobs for 48 Reorder of Deeds office workers who lost their jobs when the office was merged with the Cook County Clerk's office.

"For nearly three months, SEIU Local 73 has attempted to bargain with Cook County. During which, the County has refused to set bargaining dates, cancelled bargaining dates, and walked out on negotiations," the union said in a statement.

In a statement, Preckwinkle press secretary Nick Mathiowdis said the county respects the workers' bargaining rights, "but is deeply disappointed that the union would ask some of its members to strike during a global pandemic."

Mathiowdis said the county has used federal COVID stimulus funds to provide pandemic pay to county workers, including members of SEIU Local 73.

"Other unions during this time have negotiated hazard pay agreements with the County and the employees have received and/or soon will receive that hazard pay," Mathiowdis said in an email. "Contingency plans are in place to ensure services are not disrupted during the one-day strike."

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