Illinois Judge Rules 9-1-1 Dispatchers Can’t Take Part in Strike
Cindy Wojdyla Cain, The Herald News (Joliet, Illinois)
A Will County judge on Friday granted a temporary restraining order that will force 9-1-1 dispatchers to work even if their union goes on strike as planned at 7 a.m. Monday.
The county had filed a similar request with the Illinois Labor Relations Board, but the board’s scheduled hearing isn’t until Monday morning, the day the strike is supposed to start unless there is a last-minute contract settlement over the weekend.
“We can’t wait for the hearing because of the public’s health and safety,” said Bruce Tidwell, the county’s human resources director. “We have to do this (court action).”
Judge Theodore Jarz ruled that the 9-1-1 dispatchers, technically called telecommunicators, would have to stay on the job.
“If the Illinois Labor Relations Board determines … that a strike involving the telecommunicators would not create a clear and present danger to the public safety, this order will expire at that time,” he wrote in the order.
The last-minute court filing is the latest action Will County government is taking as it girds for a strike that could affect up to 1,000 members of American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Local 1028.
Some of the employees work in critical areas, and 9-1-1 dispatchers would be especially tough to replace, Tidwell said. Supervisors are going to pitch in and some sheriff’s police sergeants and deputies have been given a “crash course” in answering 9-1-1 calls, but they can’t handle the computer-aided-design maps, so others will have to help, he said.
Overflow calls that aren’t picked up will go to the Joliet Police Department’s 9-1-1 dispatchers and other dispatch centers in the county, Tidwell said.
Coroner Pat O’Neil said he, too, is asking the labor relations board to determine that his six deputy coroners are essential and should not be allowed to strike. He will be at a hearing Monday before the labor relations board to argue his case. O’Neil said his office handles eight to nine death cases a day, and without the union workers his office cannot function efficiently.
“It certainly is a public health and safety issue,” he said. “We cannot rely on someone else to do our job.”
His workers were not part of Friday’s temporary restraining order.
The county is preparing to hire private nurses to cover work at the county-owned Sunny Hill Nursing Home. A private vendor will prepare meals at the county jail.
Patients seeking counseling services at the Will County Health Department will be referred to Aunt Martha’s. And if it snows, county roads will be plowed by township highway departments, Tidwell said.
The county’s community health center will have to schedule fewer visits, and patients can be referred to Aunt Martha’s clinic, too, he said.
Will County Clerk Nancy Schultz Voots has canceled Saturday hours until the contract is settled. She said she has about nine nonunion employees who will work the counter and assist customers. She also gave her cellphone number to employees who fear crossing a picket line. She said she will personally escort them into the building.