Kane County probation officers, counselors begin strike

Kane County's 118 probation officers and youth counselors went on strike Monday after rejecting the county's final contract offer late last week.

The union, Teamsters Local 330, wants the county to honor a 15-stage step increase schedule from its last contract, but officials say the county can't afford annual 3.7 percent raises over 15 years.

Meanwhile, the court services department was prioritizing its limited resources to ensure juveniles being detained while they await trial still get educational services and people on probation who need immediate action, such as a drug test, are accommodated.

"We're looking to maintain what we previously negotiated," said Krista Larson, special programs probation officer with Kane County court services, taking a short break Monday from picketing in front of the Kane County Judicial Center steps in St. Charles. "This time around, (the county) wants to rescind that step system."

Striking workers also picketed in front of probation offices in Aurora and Elgin; and protesters held signs next to a large inflatable rat near the Route 38 entrance to the judicial center.

The current union contract expired last year and the union on April 13 issued a five-day notice of a possible strike.

The county made one last offer last week, but union members rejected it by a 66-10 vote, Larson said. No other negotiating sessions are planned.

"We have been getting positive responses from a lot of people - not just different departments but the general public who have had to go to court for various reasons," Larson said.

Lisa Aust, executive director of Kane County Court Services, said the strike is the first in decades in Kane County and court services has shifted its very limited resources. For example, personnel has been shifted to ensure schooling continues at the county's juvenile detention facility for the 36 juveniles being held there while awaiting trial.

Kane has nearly 3,000 people on probation and officials were looking at each case individually Monday to see if it needed immediate attention, such as a drug test or counseling, and making follow up appointments accordingly.

Aust said the probation workers and youth counselors provide an invaluable service, but yearly 3.7 percent step increases are "not sustainable" for the county.

"This is a one-day-at-a-time process. We've never been through this before. No one ever hopes for a strike," Aust said.

Once the work stoppage ends, she said she hopes the court services department can move forward as a whole.

"It's important that we all come back together as a department," she said. "These people do really great work."

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