Workers rally for increased benefits

By Kate Szyszka

Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees picketed against the provisions offered by the governor in their new contract in cities across the state Thursday.

The state of Illinois has put forward a contract that will increase health payment, said Don Lawson, licensing representative with the Department of Children and Family Services. The contract expires on June 30, and the new contract goes into effect the next day.

Locally, members marched with signs displaying slogans concerning affordable health care, fair wages and secure pension outside of the Illinois Department of Public Health.

“Gas price, the price of food, everything is going up and you need a fair contract to meet the costs of everything,” Lawson said.

Federation members have also had to work overtime in the past, contributing to exhaustion, said Rebecca Harden, president of AFSCME Local 2971.

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“If a person works for the Department of Corrections as a guard, for example, and they are forced to work long hours, they are exhausted,” said Harden. “It isn’t safe.”

Present union members, retirees and family were present for the protest, which was just one effort members made to negotiate a better contract. The union also a had a green day in which all members wore green to protest the contract, said Harden.

“Morale is high,” Harden said.

The state of Illinois has put forward a contract that will increase health payment, Lawson said.

“We will continue good faith negotiations with AFSCME,” said Kelley Quin, spokesperson for the governor’s office of management and budget. “While we understand their concerns it would be irresponsible to negotiate their contract through the media.”

“We believe we’ve had fair contracts in the past,” said Harden. “It’s no time to stop now.”