Wages Unfrozen in Illinois

Chris Labedz & truck

Illinois Department of Transportation Contract Ratified

In January 2015, a huge freeze was about to hit Illinois. Chicago, Rockford and other communities were buried in record-setting snowfalls. As Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) highway maintainers dug out city streets and cleared highways, they were about to be hit by a foe much worse than snow. 

The name of the disaster that year was Gov. Bruce Rauner, and his administration’s freeze on IDOT worker’s wages would serve as a cold shoulder to the men and women of IDOT who perform one of the most dangerous jobs there is. 

For the next four years all wages and progression step increases for all Teamster Members working for IDOT were frozen. 

Fast forward to January 2020, and some of the damage done by Rauner is starting to be completely erased with the help of Gov. J.B. Pritzker. 

A new contract was ratified by Teamsters this year that won back the wage increases cancelled by Rauner’s administration. Through unity and collaboration, the negotiating team scored a major win for 2,000 IDOT workers across nearly a dozen locals. 

“I think this is one of the best contracts we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Chris Studebaker, a member of Local 26 in Champaign, Ill. He’s worked at IDOT for 19 years and is a highway maintenance lead worker. 

“It’s way better than our old contract,” Studebaker said. “Anyone who says the union shouldn’t get involved in politics is wrong. If we had our old governor, I’m not sure we’d even have a contract right now. I was definitely worried about what would happen to our jobs if he won reelection.” 

Hard Work Paid Off

“The long hours put in by our negotiating team, led by Downstate Bargaining Committee Chairman Keith E. Gleason, really paid off in winning back our wage and benefits increases for our members. We thank them as well as the members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters who assisted the negotiations, including General President James P. Hoffa. This truly was a team effort, and a monumental win for thousands of hardworking Teamster members across the state of Illinois,” said Terrence J. Hancock, Joint Council 25 President. 

In 2015, then-Gov. Rauner’s anti-union administration gutted the previous agreement between the state and IDOT workers. The administration wanted to reduce wages and take away benefits. Local 626 President Keith E. Gleason remembers how the negotiating team had to fight just to protect current wages in the form of a freeze and keep our existing benefits.

“Negotiating with Gov. Pritzker’s administration in 2019 was like a breath of fresh air. They were tough, but fair. We would not have won back so much for our members if it had not been for a change in the governor’s office in 2018,” Gleason said. 

The Teamsters Negotiating Committees was focused on winning back wage increases and benefits for some of the state’s most unnoticed workers. 

“I’m very happy with Local 26 and with the Joint Council. They worked diligently for this contract and kept us updated every step of the way. I don’t know how many hours they put in, but we got good pay raises and other benefits,” Studebaker said. “We have bereavement pay. We’ve never had that before.

Essential and Dangerous Jobs

Laren Zeller has been a member of Local 525 for 23 years and has been at IDOT for seven. He’s a highway maintainer; he and his co-workers repair and maintain roads, Interstates and state highways. 

“Our new contract kept us on the Teamsters health insurance, so we don’t have any out-of-pocket costs. Plus we got cost-of-living increases,” Zeller said. 

“I think one of the biggest things we got in the new contract was our in-hire rates were unfrozen. In the last contract our rates were frozen and everyone was stuck at whatever ate they were at; this contract unfroze them and made everybody whole,” Zeller said. “The Joint Council and the Teamster locals all worked together to bargain and I think they did a great job.” 

Local 330 President Dominic Romanazzi is happy the Pritzker administration recognized that working on state roads and highways is an essential and dangerous job. 

“The position of highway maintainer has been determined to be one of the most dangerous jobs in state government as job-related fatalities are amongst the highest. These men and women work very hard to protect the motoring public by keeping state roads and highways safe throughout the year. They work particularly hard during the winter snow and ice season, plowing snow and spreading salt for long hours in very hazardous conditions around the clock when needed, and I’m glad to see them compensated for that,” Romanazzi said.

‘Turn Out the Vote’

This all would never have happened if Gov. Rauner was elected to a second term in 2018. Rauner was openly anti-union, supported right-to-work legislation and was a driving force behind the Janus lawsuit, which was an attack to defund public sector unions. 

In 2018, the Teamsters Union reacted to that horrendous treatment by supporting Pritzker in the 2018 gubernatorial election and Pritzker defeated Rauner handily. Gov. Pritzker has stuck by his pro-labor stances, and even signed a bill banning right-to-work zones in local governments last year.

“We supported Gov. Pritzker from the beginning, and want to thank him for all he’s done to help our members earn a fair wage and benefits since he’s taken office. This shows how important it is to turn out the vote for candidates who support collective bargaining and acknowledge the essential services provided to the state of Illinois by Teamster members,” Romanazzi said.  

“A great deal of credit needs to be given to our membership because they fought the fight and stood with us during the tough negotiations which resulted a great benefit on their behalf,” Gleason said. 

“This just goes to show how much we can accomplish when we stand united together to fight for our brothers and sisters. These fair wages and benefits mean a lot for the hardworking Teamster men and women of Illinois, especially in these uncertain times. I again want to thank all involved in getting this deal done, and I look forward to working with Gov. Pritzker and his administration in the future,” Hancock said.