Village left without employees for two days

Two-day strike. No fix yet

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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

The atmosphere was heated outside Oak Park Village Hall Saturday and Monday — literally and figuratively

Village employees and representatives of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73 flanked the area for the two-day only strike after multiple failed attempts to reach compromises between the union group and Oak Park management. The seven months of negotiations boiled down to two talking points regarding changes in overtime pay and merit-based pay increases.

A federal mediator has been working with both sides, but on June 29 the union gave notice that 85 percent of SEIU employees who work for the village voted to authorize the brief strike. This was the first ever Oak Park village employee strike, according to union representatives, but the group is open to additional strike days if needed. 

Dozens of employees and members of their families made their thoughts heard starting Saturday morning and again on Monday when  the strike resumed. The temperatures soared toward 100 Saturday and settled to around 85 early Monday, but that didn't calm the strikers.

"What do we want? A contract." a large group chanted as they made a lap around village hall grounds at Madison Street and Lombard Avenue on Monday. "When do we want it? Now."

 Adam Rosen, communications director for the union, said some SEIU union workers crossed the picket line; some employees, he said, didn't show up to picket for fear of retaliation by their supervisor. Rosen also said some who voted in favor of the strike did not show up at all.

David Powers, Oak Park's communication director, said based on information collected by management, 27 of the 67 strike-eligible employees participated in the strike. He said 19 of the 67 were at work, and the remaining employees were sick or had pre-planned vacation time.

Powers said that of the 76-person union membership that voted to authorize a strike, 43 votes were cast in favor of and 8 voted against. 25 members did not vote.

Ivory Pearson, a 17-year-village employee and parking enforcement officer, said he's an example of why merit-based pay increases don't work. Pearson said a person recently hired in the same position and who would be trained by Pearson, makes only $700 less annually than he does.

"If it worked we wouldn't be here," he said. "The standards are set so high."
Pearson was among his colleagues and union representatives who believe the system in place does not allow for realistic measures to qualify for the merit-based pay increases. 

Claims of favoritism and empty promises of merit-based increases without actually budgeting for the possible increases were other sentiments shared by village employees.

"It's so unfair" Mary Joe Lopez, a senior administrative clerk in parking services said. "It's so biased – it's used for discipline."

Village officials have said that if a contract had been in place over the past year that some 65 percent of the striking employees would have been eligible for merit increases.

Rosen said he also refutes the suggestion that a merit-based pay increase is the norm among local governments, when he said only one other municipality of the 131 groups SEIU represent includes such a program. 

According to SEIU, Oak Park officials want to offer a 1-percent wage increase plus a 1-percent merit increase. However, the union contends, the village wants to take away the ability for the union employees to file grievances when merit increases are decided.

Essentially, Rosen said, if the village chooses not to grant a merit raise to a certain employee, there would be no tool for that employee to file a complaint against the village.

"The village manager added a half-percent to the [proposed] merit pay increase," Rosen said. "But based on previous experience, we know that the majority of our employees have never seen a merit increase."

Rosen said the union asked for an additional half-percent increase in base wages, but that was declined by the village. He said the village also wants to offer merit-based increases without retroactivity, making it even harder to file grievances if an employee doesn't qualify for a raise under the evaluation process.

The merit-based increase is set on a point system and Rosen said the union would like to see more flexibility in the scale to determine what type of raise employees receive. For example, he said, on the four-point system, he would like to see those who hit a three or above receive the full merit increase.

"This is definitely a case of the 1 percent versus the 99 percent," Rosen said.

The two percent increase the union seeks amounts to approximately $75,000 a year across all the employees, according to Rosen, which the group thinks is minuscule compared to the amount the village budgets for streetscape and other village projects every year. The group claims it is asking far less than the cost of living increase.

"We are not asking for the world. We are asking for a fair contract," Lopez, another 17-year-village employee said. Lopez claims she once was told she was docked in her evaluation because she filed a grievance. "We work hard, we serve the public. What did we do to be disrespected?"

The 77 union employees include 29 unique job classifications and the staff members work in many village departments, including building property and standards, community planning, housing programs, finance, information technology, parking and mobility services, police (limited to civilian positions including parking enforcement), public health, public works (limited to clerical, engineering and forestry positions), and the village clerk's office.

The other unresolved issue, according to the union, is that employees will lose overtime pay if sick, holiday or vacation days are used in the same week.

Rosen said employees have not been eligible for merit-based pay increases since the contract expired at the end of 2010. There have been 15 negotiating sessions since May 11.

Interim Village Manager Cara Pavlicek provided an update about the collective bargaining sessions at a recent village board meeting. Both sides say they embrace the idea of merit increases, but have been unable to agree on the best method for providing them.

"We believe in consistency amongst our workforce in the manner in which we compensate them," she said. "Over 65 percent of their membership would have received a merit-based increase. But for our lack of negotiating ability [to] date, that compensation has not been there for those employees."

Powers said that if a compromise could have been reached, that percentage would have gotten about a 2.5 percent merit-based increased based on the last round of evaluations. He emphasized that non-union village hall employees who saw a recent 2 percent pay increase got the raise for the first time in about three-and-a-half years because of a wage freeze.

Rosen said when the union asked village officials which employees were part of the 65 percent, the village was vague and did not provide specific names.

Overall, there are nine collective bargaining units that represent around 275 employees and six unions in the village.

Rosen said the federal negotiator was scheduled to meet with the union representatives Tuesday to see if further discussions can achieve a solution. Another strike, however, isn't out of the picture if village management doesn't agree to changes in the new contract.

"This is the only way we can be heard," Lopez said. "We can't be heard inside."

Contact:
Email: anna@oakpark.com Twitter: @AnnaLothson

Reader Comments

18 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

OPRF Achievement  

Posted: July 13th, 2012 10:28 AM

OP is going Broke! Please, disclose the average pay and benifits for a worker in OP. Let the People they work for SEE and feel the Truth. We need total transparency. Let the Taxpayers see what the Union and the elected officals have approved. Also, please at the same time - release (the village has these numbers) the average income for residents of Oak Park. Before anymore articles about the "poor" village employees" how about the "poor" residents who are Paying the salaries and benifits!

The Original Baffled  

Posted: July 11th, 2012 11:17 AM

All I can say is that imitation is the greatest form of flattery....Thank you Baffled #2 (7/10 3:25/7/11 10:07). Also, I am not part of village mgt., just a taxpayer who thinks the WJ actually does a lousy job of actual "news reporting." I do agree that village mgt. should not have received raises either in this economy. But I think we need more cops around here. I would support a "more cops and no raises for ALL village workers" platform if someone had the cajones to run on it....

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: July 11th, 2012 10:30 AM

Baffled, I disagree with some of what you say. I am grateful that you stated the comment.

Baffled  

Posted: July 11th, 2012 10:07 AM

It is accurate to say that we the Village of Oak Park need to make some cuts. Police, Firefighters, and Public Works all need to be cut by a third. We don't need people sitting around all day just waiting for some emergency to happen, that never happens. How many fires a year are there in Oak Park? How many murders a year are there here in Oak Park? These employees will be lucky if we don't follow Scranton, Pennsylvania's example.

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: July 11th, 2012 8:32 AM

Baffled, see what I mean. we must be on the correct path. The opposition can only resort to personal attacks.

J.C  

Posted: July 10th, 2012 11:07 PM

That's right, stick together Bs. Brian Baffled = Brainless. Probably the same person with multiple personalities.

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: July 10th, 2012 9:45 PM

Baffled is secretly village management? Not with those statements. Baffled keep up the posting. You must be on the correct path because people are trying to stop you from posting using the thought that other people dont have time to post.

Just the Facts  

Posted: July 10th, 2012 9:39 PM

Judging from most of these posts and the political climate today we are all in a race to the bottom. Instead of striving to make conditions and compensation better for all, we wish others make less because "that's all I get". OP Building Maintenance jobs were privatized and some of the new workers make $10 an hour with zero benefits. No health care. No 401k. At one point the village supposedly supported a living wage mandate that now they don't follow. I bet you're taxes will go down now.

J.C  

Posted: July 10th, 2012 8:43 PM

I think Baffled is secretly village management.

Resident from Oak Park  

Posted: July 10th, 2012 8:39 PM

Baffled, stop trying to reverse the Rich and Rude chant that was directed towards management, it's not working. You're not convincing so let it go. Stick to the topic at hand since you are all over the comment pages concerning this issue for weeks. You may need a vacation. Give others time to post.

David from Oak Park  

Posted: July 10th, 2012 7:59 PM

I think village employees deserve a pay cut. The job market is tight right now and these people are being paid more than the current market rate. These are low skill jobs that you could train a monkey to do.

A. Storm  

Posted: July 10th, 2012 7:16 PM

Village employees are paid too much, given the poor work ethic of many of them They wouldn't remain employed in the private sector with their attitudes and low output. State employees haven't had a raise in several years due to state of the State. And when they do, it's 3% or less. I worked for a state agency based in Springfield. Civil service position required a Masters degree yrs. of experienc. Even with raises, after 8 yrs. I was earning only $39K. Reality, folks.

Oh No! It can't be!  

Posted: July 10th, 2012 7:09 PM

So, what are we citizens supposed to understand from this? Is it that the President and Board of Trustees not only failed to keep the village employees happy and the morale at Village Hall in good shape over the years, but also that VMA elected Pres and Trustees hired jerks? Employees call Oak Parkers "rich and rude" and with an "unlikeable attitude", now there's a sweeping generalization, sounds like projection. Imagine if we had competent elected officials and people who appreciate their jobs.

sis  

Posted: July 10th, 2012 6:58 PM

didn't miss 'em. suppose they're expendable?

M  

Posted: July 10th, 2012 6:15 PM

"Essentially, Rosen said, if the village chooses not to grant a merit raise to a certain employee, there would be no tool for that employee to file a complaint against the village." Uh, I hate to break it to you, but welcome to the real world.

Strikers don't get it  

Posted: July 10th, 2012 5:15 PM

Ivory Pearson makes a falacious argument - that time on the job alone means you should make more money. Perhaps a new employee to the department would only make $700 dollars less because it's not a highly skilled job and there are a few hundred people who would be happy to do it. Wages are paid to attract labor, simple as that. Why is Mr. Pearson still in the same job after 17 years? If he wants to increase his compensation, perhaps he should find a job that requires more skills.

Baffled  

Posted: July 10th, 2012 3:25 PM

Although the people of Oak Park are "rich and rude" with an unthinkable "attitude", Hemingway was right that these people have wide lawns and narrow minds and its no wonder he hightailed it out of Oak Park. I hate Oak Park and the trustees more..... Still Baffled

Baffled  

Posted: July 10th, 2012 2:53 PM

Seems odd that the less decorated local news gathering source reports that the strikers were chanting that Oak Parkers were "rich and rude" with an unlikable "attitude," but that nugget is missing from this report. Wonder why? Call me Baffled.

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