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Government Employees Strike Cook County For Fair Contract

CHICAGO, Jul. 11 (IMC) - 'Greetings, Cook County Board: May the Wind Get Knocked Out of You' read one woman's handwritten sign. AFSCME Council 31 staged a one-day strike today over demands for fair wages and health care.
The county and the union have negotiated for 10 months with the union pursuing a contract settlement. The union notes that salaries to members of the Cook County Board were recently raised by over 25%.

The union has also taken exception to Governor Ryan and Senate Republican-initiated budget cuts which have resulted in the closings of several social service institutions, including a youth correctional center, work camps and a mental health center.

"We are a fair group of individuals," said Mario Hightower, a black union steward for American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31, Local 3368. "We are willing to negotiate fairly. We are not going to let the county balance their budget problems on our backs."

Around him a spirited circle of 60 to 80 multi-ethnic, multi-aged people walked in a large circle just north of the Daley Plaza building, chanting slogans in unison.

"Everywhere we go-o / People want to know / Who we ar-are / So we tell them / We are AFSCME / Mighty, mighty AFSCME."

Most strikers held up pre-printed placards reading 'On Strike For a Fair Contract' and 'We Support Our Bargaining Committee.' A 40-ish Asian woman displayed marker writing on the back of her sign which read "2, 4, 6, 8 - Stroger won't negotiate," referring to John Stroger, the president of the Cook County Board of Commissioners.

"The wage increase we are getting is meager," continued Hightower. "It doesn't keep up with the cost of living. We are the backbone of the system. We do hard work, we interact with attorneys. We don't appreciate the low pay. Ghost payrollers get paid. We clock in every day, we deserve to get paid. We hope the county meets our demands and does what's fair."

Hightower returned to leading chants on a megaphone, saying, "Shut the county down." Moments later he passed it off to two white women who pressed their heads together to chant the same slogan.

An older black woman on the picket line noted that the raise goes right back to the county after new health care co-payments are factored in. Around her fellow workers shouted "Don't sit down, let's shut them down," and "No way, no co-pay."

A group of strikers lined the curb next to Randolph Street traffic holding up signs and fists as the occasional car honked in support.

A black woman's sign nearby read 'United We Stand, Divided Never.'



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