Transportation workers rally for new contract amid negotiations with state

Transportation workers rally for new contract amid negotiations with state

By ALEX ABBEDUTO  
Capitol News Illinois 
abbeduto@capitolnewsillinois.com 

Groups of Illinois Department of Transportation workers represented by local Teamsters unions rallied at facilities in Collinsville and Springfield Wednesday after recently passing a strike authorization and filing complaints against the state. 

Teamsters Local 916 President JP Fyans said negotiations have been ongoing since before the contract expired in July 2023. The points of contention are health care and wages. Fyans told Capitol News Illinois the department is asking Teamsters members to switch from the union-run health insurance plan they’ve been on for eight years to a new plan that the union claims amounts to a 20 percent pay cut. 

“The difference for the state is our members don’t pay a monthly premium on it, similar to a lot of our private sector members, and the state wants to take away that benefit and have them go into one of their eight state plans,” Fyans said. 

Last week, eight local Teamsters unions representing about 3,800 transportation-related employees authorized strikes amid the ongoing negotiations. A strike can still be avoided despite the authorization votes, which are one part of what is usually a multi-step process leading up to a work stoppage.

Shannon Leesman, the union representative for Department of Transportation District 6 workers, also said changing insurance plans “would be a direct cost out of everybody in this union’s pocket.” But he also shared that morale and pay are low.

“We keep losing all our people to consultants and contractors so we’re losing all the experience because that’s who they’re trying to poach from us,” Leesman said. 

Teamsters Local 916 said the union filed an unfair labor practice charge this week with the Illinois Labor Relations Board against the Department of Transportation Central Bureau and Division 1 for what the union calls “intimidation tactics.”

Fyans said the charge alleges the department started monitoring and surveilling members amid stalled negotiations and rising union support. 

“You’ll see the red shirts out here, the red union shirts – supervisors asked subordinates and everybody to keep track of who wears union support signs,” Fyans said. 

The National Labor Review Board says employers may not “spy on employees’ union activities”, which it defines as “doing something out of the ordinary” to monitor union members.

In a statement, the department did not directly address the complaint but said they’ve ratified a new contract with at least one local union. 

“The state has been in active contract negotiations with the Teamsters since April 2023,” the department said in the statement. “Over the weekend, the first Teamster bargaining unit (Local 700 – Cook County) to reach a deal with the state voted to ratify a new contract that provides good compensation and healthcare benefits to Teamster employees while recognizing that the state must balance its budget. That fair deal, or one substantially similar, is available to the other Teamster bargaining units. The state looks forward to continuing a successful partnership with all of its collective bargaining units now and into the future.”

Fyans told Capitol News Illinois that Central Management Services, the unit responsible for negotiating contracts, brokered a deal with Local 700 that included extra money to offset the more expensive insurance plan. He said besides not having been offered a similar deal, comparing the needs of workers represented by Local 700 to the needs of workers represented by Local 916 is “very much like apples to oranges” as they cover different careers and pay brackets.

Fyans said the workers Local 916 represents are “fed up” and “pissed off” because these issues aren’t new; they “feel left behind by the governor’s office.”

 

Members of the Teamsters Local 916 union rally Wednesday outside of the Illinois Department of Transportation building in Springfield. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Alex Abbeduto)

 

At an event earlier this week, Gov. JB Pritzker was asked about the Teamsters strike authorization. 

Pritzker said government contracts had been signed by almost all other unions and that CMS put an offer on the table that offers “and increase in wages, that offers them good health care benefits.” He also said he is unsure what will happen next but that he doesn’t think “people will have their lives interrupted if there were a strike.”

Fyans shared that they have three more days of bargaining in which they will discuss insurance benefits and salary brackets that will be crucial to deciding the Teamsters’ next steps.

If there is a strike, Fyans said he believes it could impact Illinoisans because commutes and projects would be delayed and ultimately affect commerce and safety. The unions represent employees including drivers, highway maintainers, bridge tenders, scientists, engineers and payment processors. 

“The roads and the bridges, a lot of these people inspect and maintain bridges. And we know that there’s been unsafe bridges for a long time,” Fyans said. “Those things need to be fixed. It could be as minor as pothole patching not getting done in time, or it could be just major roads to be down to one lane.”

Leesman said operations can’t run without them.

“The people that are out here today are the people that process the payments for jobs, so they wouldn’t get payments,” Leesman said. “So the jobs would shut down. We represent the highway maintainers, so the roads wouldn’t get plowed. Just major things like that. You actually have to have an IDOT employee on every job to make sure that it’s done properly and you inspect their work.”

 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

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