Cook County layoffs halted
Awaiting a court decision on the legality of a new tax on sugary beverages, Cook County issued layoff notices to hundreds of employees in July, including more than 100 AFSCME members.
On June 30, a Cook County judge granted a request from the soda industry for a restraining order to block implementation of the county’s new penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages, the revenue from which would more than address Cook County’s gaping budget hole.
Unable to collect revenue from the tax, the County looked immediately to cut personnel costs.
AFSCME members in the offices of the Chief Judge, the Public Defender, the State’s Attorney, and the Health System found themselves suddenly found themselves faced with the threat of layoffs.
They quickly took action.
“We did a lot of grassroots outreach to the Cook County Board of Commissioners—emails, calls and meetings—and we’ve established good relationships for the future,” AFSCME Local 3315 President Kevin Ochalla said, an assistant public defender.
Thankfully, good news came down on Friday, July 28 when the judge lifted the temporary restraining order on the tax, allowing the county to collect revenues beginning August 2.
Soon after, the AFSCME bargaining committee met with the county for negotiations. The first and only demand from the union members was that all scheduled layoffs be rescinded. With the lifting of the restraining order, the county had reduced its projected shortfall to $17 million, an amount that can be addressed through non-personnel related cuts.
A week after negotiations, the county informed Council 31 that every single layoff notice sent to AFSCME members because of the delay in implementing the sweetened beverage tax would be rescinded.
“I really give credit to all the Cook County locals,” Ochalla said. “When our entire bargaining team got together, I really felt the solidarity in the room,” Ochalla said. “Everybody is in this together. That is very powerful.”