Sheriff puts Kane County on alert that court security officers could strike

Security at Kane County's five courthouses might soon drop to a bare minimum, allowing for only basic courthouse operations, because officials appear to be at an impasse in ongoing union contract negotiations.

Kane County Sheriff Don Kramer informed a county board committee Thursday he believes the 32 court security officers may be ready to strike. The union's contract expired in November, along with all the other union contracts in the county.

"Of all the contract negations, this is the one that's most concerning," Kramer said to the committee. "There is a possibility that there could be some kind of work stoppage in the near future."

The court security officers are represented by Elgin-based Teamsters Local 330. The union president and attorney did not respond to interview requests Thursday.

The most recent contract with the security officers includes a "no strike commitment" section. It says the union will not authorize or condone a strike or work stoppage. It's not clear if that provision applies after the contract expired in November.

In an interview, Kramer said the union promised him it would deliver prior notice of an intent to strike before any officers walk off the job. He has not received such a notice. But Kramer said he believes the potential of a work stoppage is real enough that he's started formulating plans with the chief judge to keep courthouses in Aurora, Carpentersville, Elgin, Geneva and St. Charles open. He could not promise every courtroom would remain open during a strike.

"We'd basically be down to our lieutenants doing everything from staffing the courtrooms to running the scanners you walk through when you enter the buildings," Kramer said.

The court security officers are one of the few unions in the county with any ability to strike. Kramer said that's because the officers don't have the ability to work out contract negotiation sticking points through binding arbitration.

The county's relationship with the court security officers has sat on shaky ground for a decade. The officers went without a union contract from 2008 to 2013, fueling hearings with labor officials and court proceedings. In 2013, the officers filed an official strike notice, but no strike occurred as the county reached a last-minute deal for a five-year, retroactive contract that went all the way back to 2008.

The union then inked another deal for the contract that just expired. The most recent deal included a 2 percent raise in 2015 and 2.5 percent raises for both 2016 and 2017.

In recent weeks, county board members discussed numbers that show approving a 1 percent raise for all county employees would be difficult to fund even with a property tax increase. Pay for the court security officers is funded through a court security fee imposed on defendants found guilty in criminal cases, local or county ordinance violations, traffic tickets and conservation cases.

The board approved a plan to nearly double the fee a couple of years ago. Even with the increase, the fee has never covered the full cost of the court security program.

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