Reporting Mike Krauser
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OAK PARK, Ill. (STMW) – Three dozen SEIU Local 73 union members picketed outside the Oak Park village hall in sweltering 90-plus degree heat Saturday, protesting what they say is inequity and unfairness in the village’s wage structure.
Meanwhile, inside Village Hall, management personnel and other village staffers did their best to provide service to upwards of a hundred people waiting to renew vehicle stickers and parking permits.
Armed with picket signs, union T-shirts, a list of protest chants and, perhaps most importantly, a large cooler filled with ice and bottles of water, the strikers moved between the main entrance off the parking lot and the corner of Lombard Avenue and Madison Street.
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While the permit process went far slower than normal, according to both customers and striking employees, Interim Village Manager Cara Pavlicek suggested the turnout and service time was relatively normal.
Pavlicek, looking upbeat, was joined by several management personnel, including Housing Director Tammy Grossman, Village Planner Craig Failor and Jill Velan, a contract worker from GovTemps USA who is the village’s interim parking services manager.
There was one moment of outright animosity when a union village staffer, Wanda Humphries, crossed the picket line to go inside for work.
That led to an angry rebuke from union steward Marijo Lopez, who works with Humphries in the parking services department.
“Talk to (SEIU Local 73 vice president) Tim (McDonald),” Lopez said of the incident. “I’m too angry about it.”
“We asked her not to do it and she did it anyway,” McDonald said of Humphries. “People like her are the reason (the village) thinks they can constantly step on people here, because they have them under their thumb.”
Humphries was also upset.
“I really don’t appreciate being heckled,” she said. “I’m a grown woman, 61 years old, and I don’t stand for that.”
Humphries declined to go into her reasons for breaking from her union colleagues, except to say “this is a scheduled work day for me. I’m not going to get a(n absence) mark today and Monday.”
Gesturing to the strikers outside, she said angrily, “Those people aren’t even scheduled to work today.”
Besides chants of solidarity and resolve, the strikers also voiced criticism of Oak Park’s sense of fairness.
“Oak Park… rich and rude… we don’t like your attitude,” went one chant.
Bill Barclay, a retired investor who stopped by to support the strikers, said Oak Park is wealthy enough to pay equitable wages.
“The average household income in Oak Park is $111,000,” he said, quoting 2010 census figures. “These people are relatively low paid and they are doing important work.”
Ivory Pearson, a 17-year veteran of the parking department, said village management takes the work he and others do for granted.
“Putting a boot on someone’s car is no walk in the park,” he said. “I make $34,000 and change a year. Someone coming in the door will get $33,500.”
Many people waited between an hour and two hours to be called for permit service.
Leonard Robinson lives in Bellwood but works in downtown Oak Park, so he needs a parking sticker.
“It’s usually slow anyways,” he said as he passed the 90-minute mark waiting to be called Saturday. “It’s a lot slower today. It was a lot more efficient before today.”
Bill Friedle of Oak Park, called the delays “inconvenient” and was unhappy with the strikers.
“This is the wrong time to be doing it, with the (bad) economy,” he said.
But David Greenbaum, of Oak Park supported the strikes, saying “From understanding, the median wages of that group is $40,000. It’s not really fair or keeping up with the times.”
Greenbaum, who said he’d arrived at Village Hall about 9 a.m. to get his parking permit renewed, was finally serviced sometime between 10:30 and 11 a.m.
Several striking employees noted that it not only took longer, but took 10 people to perform the work normally accomplished by four staff plus the cashiers.
But Pavlicek said the crowd Saturday was “pretty standard” for the summer quarter Saturday license process.
“It isn’t that we had to take 10 people to do this job,” she said.
Pavlicek said she also “didn’t want to minimize” the role the striking workers fulfill.
“These jobs are hard,” she acknowledged. “(But) the important thing is providing service. I’m not trying to create a divide here, but when people don’t show up, we have to provide service.
“It’s not fun when you have a labor dispute. It’s really hard.”
SEIU’s McDonald suggested things could get harder. Further mediation sessions are scheduled, but more strikes after Monday aren’t out of the question.
“We’ll be back Monday,” he said. “We’ll have a couple hundred people here all day.”
“This is just the start. We’re not walking away from this.”
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