By Anna Lothson
Unless Village of Oak Park management and employees represented by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73 can reach an agreement on the terms of a new contract by Saturday, 76 workers will walk off the job for two days.
A federal mediator has been working with both sides for the past six months. 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.
Both sides met again on Monday, but Adam Rosen, communications director for the SEIU, said the union and the village remained split on two issues — merit-based pay increases and specifics surrounding certain loss of overtime pay.
According to the 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 that 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.
If a strike occurs, union employees won't report for work on Saturday from 8:30 a.m. until noon and again on Monday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday was picked as the start date since it's a Saturday village hall is open during special hours to help people get vehicle stickers. The Saturday hours allow people to get the stickers by the July 15 deadline, and last year the village saw long lines of people waiting.
Those stickers, however, maybe be extra tough to get since many of those employees are part of the union.
"They've felt disrespected and undervalued for some time," Rosen said. "They are going to have to strike to show how important they are to village."
On Monday's, the village board publicly supported hiring replacement employees to keep providing village services in the case of a strike.
The 76 union employees comprise 29 unique job classifications and they 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.
Except for essential public works crews, management, police officers and firefighters, many of those who keep the village running won't be at their posts if a strike is called.
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 Monday's village board meeting, but as of noon Tuesday, Rosen said he hadn't heard back from the village.
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."
On Monday night, Pavlicek said the village is "hopeful" both side will come to an agreement. She was not available immediately Tuesday for further comments.
Rosen said the union will meet whenever the village wants, saying they'd even meet on the Fourth of July. They've also kept time open Thursday to meet.
"We'll meet if the village manager wants to meet," he said. "But we haven't heard anything yet."