Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that the salary range for the director of public works was increased by 19%. That does not mean the salary of the current public works director Sal Stella increased at all.
Tensions between the Village of Forest Park and the labor union representing a significant portion of its workforce spilled into the public during the Sept. 13 village council meeting.
Last year, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3026 agreed to postpone the scheduled 2.5 percent pay raises as the village saw several of its revenue sources drop during the COVID-19 pandemic and future financial prospects remained uncertain.
During the council meeting, AFSCME Local 3026 President Katie Murphy said that a year later the village is offering a 1 percent raise, which the union felt was paltry given their earlier concessions and the fact that, she argued, the member salaries were low to begin with. In a follow-up interview, David Marlow, the union negotiator, cited the fact that the village recently increased salary ranges for most supervisors, saying that a similar raise would only be fair.
Village council members didn’t respond to Murphy’s comments during the meeting, and Moses Amidei, village administrator, subsequently declined to comment on the matter, citing ongoing contract negotiations.
AFSCME Local 3026 represents village’s clerical workers, as well as custodians, event coordinators, building inspectors, several community center staff members and Pace dial-a-ride bus drivers. Under the current union contract, members were scheduled to receive a raise on May 1, 2020. AFSCME agreed to postpone the increase three times, ultimately pushing it back to Dec. 31, 2020. In return, the village agreed not to lay off any union employees until Jan. 1, 2021 and not to reduce full-time employees’ hours. Firefighters’ and auto mechanics’ unions agreed to postpone their members’ raises as well, while the police union agreed to a reduced raise – 1.75 percent instead of 2.5 percent.
Murphy told the council that, “for years now, the Village of Forest Park underpaid its frontline employees,” saying that they earned an average of $40,000 a year, so many of them “had to work second jobs just to get by.”
“We provide vital services to Forest Park and we provide vital services every day,” she said. “Like every member of the community, we deserve a living wage.”
This, Murphy argued, became more egregious during the pandemic.
“[At the height of the pandemic] we worked in good faith and agreed to postpone the salary increase,” she said. “As a reward, in 2021, we were offered less than 1 percent increases.”
She also said that ASCME as a whole lobbied the federal government to pass the American Rescue Plan Act, the third stimulus package that netted Forest Park around $1.86 million. The ARPA funds can be spent for several purposes, including making up revenue losses and covering pay raises for frontline workers.
Murphy asked the village to direct its union negotiators “to negotiate with us in good faith.”
On Aug. 23, the village council increased salary caps for a number of non-union positions. For example, the village administrator’s salary cap increased by 2.3 percent, the Director of Public Health and Safety’s salary cap increased by 22 percent, Director of Public Works’ salary cap increased by 19 percent. Those changes don’t necessarily mean the salaries will actually increase – just that the village has the authority to do so.
Marlow cited those increases, saying that the union was simply looking for fairness. “They raised the salary caps for many supervisors, and that concerns us,” he said. “We just want fairness at the bargaining table.”