Across Illinois, Teamsters working for the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) voted to authorize a strike earlier this week, as revealed in a statement released by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters on Thursday, Feb. 8. Ninety-five percent of voting members approved the strike.
The vote follows months of ongoing negotiations between union representatives, IDOT and the Illinois Department of Central Management Services (CMS) – the entity responsible for managing benefits and human resources for state employees. Employees have been working without a contract since July 1, 2023.
According to Teamster leadership, the decisive vote was long overdue.
“Our members, who have been leading the way during this contract fight, have grown tired of the state’s unwillingness to value their hard work,” said Thomas Stiede, the President of Teamsters Joint Council 25. “Their overwhelming strike authorization sends a clear message, and we will do whatever it takes to get them the contract they deserve.”
JP Fyans, Teamsters Local 916 President, explained that negotiations center on two issues – benefits and wages.
According to Fyans, CMS has indicated its intent to switch employees to a different health insurance plan that would result in a 26% reduction in take-home pay for employees. No corresponding pay increase has been proposed by the state.
“In this climate, prices are going up,” Fyans explained. “Nobody is seriously considering taking a lower benefits package.”
Additionally, Fyans argued IDOT’s salary structure is outdated and does not compensate workers fairly. Fyans argued that, as a result, IDOT is struggling to hire additional workers, leaving more jobs to be contracted to private consultants who are paid at a much higher rate than most of IDOT’s own workforce.
“It’s one of the biggest reasons why they can’t get people to come in and work at the agency,” he said, later adding “It behooves a state employee to go work for a consultant and backfill IDOT than to stay in their current position.”
At IDOT District 5 headquarters in Paris, employees are feeling the squeeze of the ongoing negotiations and chronic understaffing.
Amy Woodard, who has worked at IDOT for 17 years and currently serves as a union representative for the district, believes a solution is readily available if IDOT and CMS are willing to back down from their recent proposals.
“We know the budget has been passed and the appropriations for our raises have been approved, so this process could be easily completed if CMS/IDOT were not asking us to take concessions in other areas that will cause us net losses of over 20 percent,” she explained.
“It is our hope that we can still come to an agreement to avoid any further action being necessary.”
One local IDOT employee who wished to remain anonymous stated they fill multiple positions in the workplace, all while the state is proposing changes that would significantly reduce the value of each paycheck.
“We are working with about half the staff we need. People retire and it takes years to replace them,” they explained. “So many are doing multiple jobs. The retirees go to work for consulting firms and make more money doing the same job.”
In a post-pandemic economy, every dollar counts.
“In this economy, no one can afford to lose any pay when it costs the average family $1,000 more a month to live,” they added.
While the recent Teamster vote authorizes a strike, there is no guarantee one will take place. Negotiations continued this week and federal mediation is set to start on Thursday, Feb. 15 per Fyans.
“The next two weeks are really going to tell whether we’re moving on with the strike,” said Fyans.
Regardless of what comes next, Fyans is willing to do whatever it takes to secure fair compensation and benefits for the employees he represents.
“I always say, the good deal comes when the terms are right, not when the time is right,” he said.
IDOT released a statement in response to inquiries from several media outlets.
“The safety of the traveling public always has been and always will be the Illinois Department of Transportation’s top priority,” the statement reads. “The department values its hard-working staff and employees, and looks forward to continuing a successful partnership with all of its collective bargaining units now and into the future.”