Teamsters gearing up for possible strike against IDOT

Union rallies in Schaumburg, Ottawa, protesting pay levels, loss of benefits

About 50 members of the Teamsters Union picketed Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, outside the Illinois Department of Transportation office in Ottawa. The union is negotiating with the state for higher wages and benefits.

SPRINGFIELD — Teamsters, who have gone without a contract for 7 months and are angered by the course of negotiations, are preparing to vote on whether to vote to authorize a strike, said JP Fyans, president of Teamsters Local 916.

In the meantime, rallies are being organized in the state’s nine Illinois Department of Transportation districts, starting with one organized by union locals 330, 700, 916 and the union umbrella organization, Joint Council 25, that ran from 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. Wednesday in the District 1 office at 201 W. Center Court in Schaumburg.

About 50 Local 916 members at the District 3 office in Ottawa also organized their own picket line during the Wednesday lunch hour.

There are nine IDOT districts statewide, including District 2, which is based in Dixon. More rallies will be held, Fyans said.

Teamsters have been working without a contract since it expired on June 30, and there have been at least 20 bargaining sessions, with no proposal on the table and no concessions from the state, he said.

“Mediators have been brought in, and we are following the process,” Fyans said, but “a vote to authorize a vote to strike is in the works.”

Negotiations have gotten contentious, with the state refusing to include pay raises, and insisting that the 4,500 Teamsters in 10 locals employed by IDOT switch back to the state insurance plan, which is more costly and effectively will mean a 25% loss in take-home pay, Fyans said.

IDOT, short-staffed in the wake of the pandemic with nearly 900 vacancies, also is hiring fewer and fewer workers, and those who do get hired are coming in at salaries that are significantly lower than the positions call for, and less than those same jobs pay in the private sector, according to Fyans and an email he forwarded to Shaw Media from Joint Council 25.

To make up for the vacancies, the state regularly is using engineering technician and civil engineering consultants, which the union says “regularly costs the state at least three times the amount to pay for a new, full-time hire with better union benefits.”

The union email also said IDOT salaries have not been adjusted in 16 years, and the state is trying to recruit and hire engineering technicians at less than $35,000 a year, which is near federal poverty levels, with lower union benefits than their co-workers.

Thomas W. Steide is president of the Joint Council.

“Our members have sacrificed wages and other benefits in previous negotiations to maintain their Teamster health care, and we are not just going to walk away from it now without a fight,” Steide said in a release Tuesday.

“These workers keep the Illinois traveling public safe, and it’s unfortunate to see their value being undermined by this administration,” Steide said.

“We are nearing the breaking point, and may be left with no other choice than to strike this winter.”

Several hundred people attended the rally in Schaumburg, Teamsters spokesman Gianni Pasquale said.

The bulk of the attendees were workers, and union reps and members of other labor organizations who turned up to show their support, Pasquale said.

When asked for comment on the status of the negotiations and the potential strike, IDOT public information officer Paul Wappel emailed this statement Wednesday morning:

“The Illinois Department of Transportation values its employees and looks forward to continuing a successful partnership with all of its collective bargaining units now and into the future.”

According to the council, Illinois plans a “historic investment in building and improving public infrastructure,” which will cost $41 billion over six years.

Without the state’s 2,000 professional and technical employees – engineers, engineering technicians, surveyors, chemists, and more – ”this monumental state undertaking cannot succeed,” the email said.

Investment in infrastructure is much overdue and much needed, but IDOT hasn’t had a modern approach to hiring in more than six years, and the state continues to propose wages at the federal poverty level, Fyans said

Being forced to switch to the more expensive state insurance plan also is a major bone of contention for the Teamsters.

“Taking away the professional and technical workers’ current insurance could result in their exodus to the private sector to make up for the loss; and the real loss will be to the people of Illinois, whose badly needed infrastructure projects will be delayed and corrupted, and whose day-to-day travels will be less safe and more onerous,” the council said.

At the Ottawa rally, Jon Woodyer, of Teamsters Local 916, a union steward for IDOT District 3, said he wanted to call attention to the unfair terms being offered by Gov. JB Pritzker.

“Our governor’s office proposal removes good union insurance and causes a contractual overall loss over 24% take home pay, on average,” Woodyer said. “The governor’s office is proposing a large segment of our members to start at $32,000 a year and require a two-year degree or equivalent. This is federal poverty level wages.”

Randy Freeman, a union member of more than 20 years and a former La Salle County Board member, said workers are being squeezed insofar as union membership is tumbling – down 24% over the past decade, by his estimate – while the volume of work is increasing. This is the time to boost wages and benefits, not curtail them, Freeman said.

“We just want to be compensated fairly.”

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Kathleen Schultz

Kathleen A. Schultz

Kathleen Schultz is a Sterling native with 40 years of reporting and editing experience in Arizona, California, Montana and Illinois.

Tom Collins

Tom Collins

Tom Collins covers criminal justice in La Salle County.