Fifteenth Judicial Circuit Court Clerk’s Office Strikes in Mount Carroll
By TONY CARTON | For The Prairie Advocate News
MOUNT CARROLL – A labor dispute between the Clerk of the Circuit Court in Carroll County and her staff reached the boiling point Monday when three members of the clerk’s office failed to report for work citing the lack of good faith negotiation on the part of the clerk, Sheri Miller.
“This is not an economic strike; it has nothing to do with money,” said Zack Ross who represents the strikers through his position as Manager with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America, Local 790.
He said Miller received a letter from his office the first week of August notifying her of their intent to modify or amend the current collective bargaining agreement and to negotiate a successor agreement.
“In that letter it states that she should contact me for available dates and times so we could meet and negotiate,” Ross said. “Well, she never contacted me, ever.”
He said he waited to hear back from Miller until November 18 when he sent her a five-day notice of the group’s intent to strike thinking when she received the strike notice she would contact him to begin negotiations, but when she failed again to contact him and the contract expired he instructed the clerk’s staff to stay home.
“We didn’t strike Monday [December 1] on the basis that maybe she will call me,” Ross said. “I didn’t want to take it to the street and have a bad scene or whatever you want to call it. I tried to give her the ability to reach out to me, but the girls were instructed not to go to work because they didn’t have a contract.”
Miller said she is waiting for them to give her their demands.
“I have not gotten anything from them on what they want except for a five-day notice to strike,” she said. “When I got that five-day notice to strike I gave it to the State’s Attorney. He tried and tried and tried to call Mr. Ross who is the union person and he [Ross] failed to return any calls, so they went out on strike,” Miller said.
Carroll County administrator Michael Doty said the circuit clerk’s office is, by Illinois constitution, a separate division of the State of Illinois and not part of the county government.
“We actually have four separate units of unions,” said Doty. “We have the FOP. We have the Teamsters. We have a carpenter’s unit that negotiates an agreement with the county and then we have a carpenter’s unit that negotiates with the circuit clerk. The circuit clerk is the only one that signs to that contract; the county does not. On the other three, the county board signs to the contracts.”
He said the locally elected circuit clerk is part of the judicial system which has offices in the county building, and the clerk is the employer, not the county.
“Our agreement is signed and county employees are at work,” Doty said. “The clerk negotiates with the union representative of her staff, but apparently that is not happening. They are on strike; county employees are not.”
Ross said the clerk’s office contract ended November 30 and since that date the clerks have not had a contract.
“We haven’t even sat down to an official bargaining session to go through language or economics; there’s been nothing,” Ross said. “There is no contract there and without a contract they are not going to go to work.”
He said the strikers had not picketed Friday, December 6 because he termed that day as a cooling off period and has scheduled a meeting in Springfield with a representative of the courts on Monday, December 9.
“I am hoping this is resolved Monday,” Ross said. “They want to go back to work. I want them to go to work. It is all up to her [Miller]. I mean if she wants to get a contract they will hopefully be back to work on Tuesday. I’m going to stay with this Monday, as long as it takes.”
Miller indicated she is considering other options.
“I thought when you were on strike you picketed or you went back to work; one or the other,” she said. “On Monday and then again on Friday, when they weren’t out picketing I think it is a ‘No call-no show’ and they quit. That’s my opinion.”
When questioned directly about whether the strikers are unemployed because they were not on the picket line Monday and Friday of last week, Miller said, “That is a possibility.”
Ross said negotiating and settling on a contract has never been a problem in the past.
“I’ve been their representative for around 17 years; prior to that they were never unionized,” he said. “A contract has never been a problem and I don’t know what her issue is. She is in a position as an elected official where nobody has authority over her. It’s like she is abusing her position. I don’t get it. A lot of people don’t get it.”