Kane County court services officials say they will begin hiring new employees if the probation officers and youth counselors who have been on strike for two weeks don't return to work Tuesday.
But if they do, they can expect a fight from Teamsters Local 330, the union representing the 118 employees.
Lawyers for the union said, in a May 12 letter to the county's negotiators, that the move would be illegal, because the strike is not just over a contract but also over charges of unfair labor practices.
"To the extent Chief Judge (Susan) Clancy Boles is suggesting that she will hire permanent replacements for the striking employees, we believe she is legally prohibited from doing so," wrote union attorney Robert Cevone.
"I think she should be focusing her concentration on resolving her strike by reinstating the current employees that are on strike as opposed to considering hiring of new employees that have absolutely no experience," Dominic Romanazzi, Local 330 president, said Monday.
Strikers held a rally late Monday morning at the Kane County Judicial Center.
"The harder they resist providing us a fair contract, the harder we are going to fight," county employee Suzy Jenkins told the crowd.
The employees went on strike April 30 after rejecting a contract offer by the county's court system.
Union representatives have said they're concerned the youths at the juvenile justice center, as well as people on probation, are potential dangers to the public. Employees say nonstriking staff members are unable to safely supervise people convicted of sex offenses, battery, and drug and weapon possessions, among other offenses.
In a May 10 letter, Boles asked all court services employees to return to work by Tuesday to minimize that safety risk. If they don't, she said, the county will start hiring new employees.
"We very much respect the right of workers to strike," Boles said in the letter. "The Sixteenth Judicial Circuit Court Services Department, however, has a right and in fact an obligation to fulfill our duties to the public by compliance with all statutes and taking all steps to minimize any safety risk to the public."
Returning employees would work under the terms of a contract offer implemented April 30, she said.
Union members told the county board last week they want to extend the current contract, which ended last year and includes starting annual salaries of $39,000 and a maximum salary of about $59,000. They also want to extend the 3.7 percent step raises they receive under the current contract for three more years.
The county has made three offers that were rejected by the union, the most recent of which would provide raises of 2.5 percent for three years, Boles said in an earlier note to striking employees. Under that deal, proposed April 24, those raises would be achieved in the first two years by a combination of percentage increases and annual bonus payments.
Some senior probation officers and senior youth counselors would get monthly bonuses of $250, representing annual raises of more than 3.5 percent, Boles said.